Football Features

Five things to expect if Man Utd sign Jadon Sancho

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 17:19, 11 September 2020

The Jadon Sancho to Manchester United transfer story is becoming relevant again.

After looking like it was dead in the water, the latest rumours are that agents fees have been sorted and all that remains is for United and Borussia Dortmund to agree on a price. The move is closer than ever to happening and should he arrive, Sancho would be a transformative signing for the Red Devils in multiple ways, starting with…

1. The right left-winger

On the face of it, Manchester United are signing Jadon Sancho to play one position only: right-wing. On the left they have Marcus Rashford, up-front is Anthony Martial and at No.10 is Bruno Fernandes. The only hole in their starting XI is on the right, and should he join then Sancho will plug it.

But Sancho is more than just a right-winger. The brilliance of the youngster is that he is able to play all across the second band in attack. He is known as a right-winger, for sure, but spent a good portion of the end of last season playing in a more “central” role as Dortmund shifted formation. Even from this position, though, he would still drift wide towards the left.

Jadon Sancho’s heatmap from Dortmund’s 1-6 win over Paderborn, where he scored a hat-trick from a “central” position.

He’s thrived on the left in a more orthodox role in numerous instances before, too. Mainly in his younger days early on with Dortmund and with England youth teams. He dominated from there at the u-17 Euros in 2017 and was voted the tournament’s best player as England finished runners-up.

Sancho has since played there again on numerous occasions, including at the Camp Nou last season where he scored a goal. He truly can cover the entire width of the pitch, going inside and outside from both flanks, and this is why he’s so dangerous for opponents.

Sancho will assuredly start as United’s right-winger in all of the big games (fitness permitting) but as those matches progress you can expect to see him popping up all over the attack, finding spaces where he can hurt opponents regardless of where that takes him on the pitch. And that kind of fluidity is exactly what United needs to stop becoming stale and predictable.

2. Elite and essential chance-creation

The Premier League’s leading chance creator in 2019/20 was Kevin De Bruyne with 136. Manchester United’s leading chance creator in the league was Fred, with 35. Jadon Sancho meanwhile created 69, almost double what Fred posted and certainly double (or more) than any of United’s incredible forwards.

As much as Manchester United’s front three were a fabulous trio when it came to scoring and setting-up goals, they weren’t really a creative bunch that was able to carve opponents up and create chances for their team-mates. This played into the difficulties that United had breaking down stubborn defences (which eventually cost them in the Europa League and FA Cup and so very nearly cost them in the Premier League).

Sancho can provide those chances. You would think he is being brought in to do so. And alongside a full season of Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba (despite playing less than half the minutes of Marcus Rashford, Fernandes and Pogba created just three fewer chances with 30 each), United will suddenly find it much easier to break opponents down, which will help them win those tight and tense clashes.

3. He will play like…

What makes Sancho so special a signing is that his kind of profile just hasn’t been witnessed all that often in the Premier League. Here we have a winger who dribbles a lot and creates chances at an elite level, but who doesn’t necessarily shoot all that often. There are very few players like that in England, mesmeric dribblers that are selfless creators.

Based on raw numbers, Sancho shares similarities with Man City’s Bernardo Silva. Alright, the Portuguese presses more than Sancho does, and he is not as relentless a dribbler. But ultimately both men take lots of touches, get the ball into the final third and create chance after chance for their team-mates. Riyad Mahrez is another with a similar profile, albeit one who tends to shoot more.

It’s interesting to note just how different a player Sancho is when compared to Liverpool’s star forwards Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah. Many expected Liverpool to come in for the player, but in some senses the numbers suggest Sancho’s style would have made him an odd fit in the roles that are occupied by Mané and Salah. Consider also the immense cost and fact Sancho wouldn’t necessarily start, and Liverpool’s inaction makes sense.

4. The curse will be lifted

Five players have worn Manchester United’s fabled No.7 shirt since Cristiano Ronaldo left the club, and they’ve all been colossal disappointments in one way or another. Michael Owen has one last-second derby winner but was otherwise an injury-prone non-event, Antonio Valencia shrivelled under the pressure, Angel Di Maria was a misfit, Memphis Depay was mismanaged and Alexis Sánchez was, well, there haven’t been words invented to describe what Alexis Sánchez was at Manchester United.

The prevailing theory is that the No.7 shirt was cursed. That the brilliance of Cristiano, David Beckham and Eric Cantona had placed an unspoken weight on the number that was too heavy for others to bear. As absurd as that idea is, it cannot be denied that three stupendously talented players have all flopped wearing it. But that will change if Sancho arrives.

The Englishman currently wears the seven for Borussia Dortmund and will take it should he join United, and he is a player of such overwhelming quality and confidence that he will undoubtedly perform wearing it and thus “break” the curse.

5. United will be back in the title picture

Manchester United’s form with Fernandes in the side was as good as anyone’s in the Premier League. For the entire second half of the season the Red Devils lost just twice (the aforementioned FA Cup and Europa League semi-finals) and so were either beating teams or drawing absurdly. An entire season of Fernandes and you can imagine United being much closer to the league leaders than the frankly absurd 33-point gap between them and Liverpool in 2019/20.

An entire season of Fernandes and Sancho, however? That is going to supercharge United’s form to a frankly terrifying degree. Obviously one of the problems United ran into was that if you could stifle Fernandes you could stifle United. Southampton, Spurs and West Ham all did this and all took points from the Red Devils.

With Sancho, this strategy no longer works. Now you have to honour the Englishman out wide as well as the Portuguese in the middle. United being able to assault opponents with two stupendous creative forces will not only make them more dangerous but will create much more space for other team-mates, perhaps enabling them to be even more creative.

Sancho’s signing would genuinely propel United back into the title race. They’d still not likely win it, but for the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson left the club they’d actually be relevant competitors for it.