|Written by Lee Chun Hang|
City’s Loss, Dortmund’s Gain
Not many players would turn down the opportunity to play under the best managers in the world. So often we hear in interviews where new signings credit the managers’ reputation for their decision to join the club, expressing their desire to learn from the very best of the game. This certainly makes Jadon Sancho an outlier, when he rejected a contract to work with Pep Guardiola in search of first team football. When you consider he would’ve been competing against the likes of Sterling, Sane and Bernado Silva, perhaps moving for more guaranteed minutes isn’t a bad idea after all.
And so, Dortmund came in with reassurance of his first team status and signed the 17-year-old as Ousmane Dembele’s replacement for just £8 million. From then on, Sancho stormed the league from the flanks and conjured up assists after assists, ultimately earning him the nickname ‘Assists King’ in the Bundesliga. The mercurial winger has proven to be one of the world’s most promising attackers in recent years, going toe-to-toe with some of Europe’s elite in his tender age. Having recently made his 100th appearances for the club, he has accumulated 36 goals and 43 assists for the Black and Yellows, an even impressive feat considering he has only turned 21 last month.
The dashboard below shows why Sancho is highly regarded as one of the best wingers of his generation and his importance to Dortmund when compared to other forwards in the Bundesliga. This analysis will cover the Englishman’s performance with club this season. All figures below are based on performance per 90 minutes played, according to FBref via StatsBomb.
The Assist King
Jadon Sancho is undoubtedly one of Europe’s best creators, alongside Lionel Messi. The Englishman is normally positioned on the right wing but is equally capable on the opposite flank where he is given more opportunities at goal. In games, he would normally occupy the half spaces whenever the wingbacks are holding the width, this opens up more passing lanes for him to conjure up opportunities. This season has seen the winger struck up a phenomenal relationship with Haaland, with the latter benefitting from 6 of Sancho’s assists this season.
When it comes to chance creation and playmaking abilities, he is in a league of his own when compared to his Bundesliga counterparts. This season, Sancho has 0.97 Goal-creating actions per90 and 5.29 Shot-creating actions per90, both metrics only beaten by one other opponent, respectively. This goes to show his intuitive style of play where he can conjure up opportunities after opportunities for his teammates.
A common feature of Sancho’s game is that he constantly drops deep in central areas to receives the ball. Whenever his wingback receives the ball, he often comes towards the players offering himself as an option. This helps reduce the burden of the wingbacks and gives sancho more opportunities to dictate the game from deep. In the game against Leipzig, he drifts from the flank centrally to receive a ball from the defence. He makes a quick turn and drives forward before threading a perfectly weighted ball to Haaland, who unfortunately saw his attempt hit the bar.
Sancho picking up the ball in the center and driving it forward, before unleashing Haaland
Over the past 2 seasons, Sancho has become Dortmund’s default creativity hub for the majority of their attacks. They look to him for a source of inspiration and spark. Sancho embraced his added responsibility and is amongst Europe’s most creative players with 2.85 key passes per90 and 3.8 passes into penalty area per90. Although his pass completion rate this season has been a career low with 78.5%, this goes to show he is much of a risk taker for the team, often opting for the more dangerous passes for greater rewards, and as the stats show, it normally comes to fruition.
Although crossing is an important feature in wingers, Sancho is quite different in that he prefers the through balls to open up defenses rather than the odd cross. This could explain the high number of passes into the penalty area he accumulated this season. In the game against Schalke 04, Sancho received the ball out wide and immediately approaches the opposition fullback. Knowing his unpredictability, this dragged the center back towards him as well, leaving Bellingham free to occupy the vacated space. A through ball was once again opted and Bellingham ended up getting an assist for Haaland’s goal.
Opponents recognizing the danger Sancho possesses, double teaming on him but leaves spaces vacated for Bellingham to exploit
That said, when he is on the left flank, he will normally come inside to the left half space, and then opting for the cross instead of the pass. His assist against Leipzig showcases his quality where he manages to put in a quality cross in from the left with one touch for Haaland. Different situation, different solutions, same outcome.
Sancho and Haaland combining for a scissors kick goal
In his youth, Sancho spent his time playing football on the streets, honing his skills, and learning from videos of Neymar and Ronaldinho. The lessons learnt in the back alleys are particularly unique to street footballers as they have to manage with the limited space to them. This has encouraged many to develop great close control as well as a unique dribbling ability, Sancho was no exception and his dribbling technique as well as ball control has been his greatest strengths in his game today.
Sancho’s ball carrying abilities is amongst the league’s best as well. Dortmund constantly looks for the Englishman as an outlet to drive the ball forward to the penalty area. The 21-year-old currently leads the league in progressive carries with 10.4 per90, with 2.15 of those carries advancing into the penalty area. This does prove that Sancho isn’t a one-dimensional winger but rather the complete attacker.
The assist against Monchengladbach showcases his brilliance on the ball as well as game intelligence. When he received the ball on the half spaces, he stalls time for his attackers to make the runs by dribbling or manipulating the ball to create space for himself. The moment where the run is made by Haaland, he would then thread through balls into the penalty area for a clear opportunity at goal.
Sancho with his dribbling abilities shifting the ball to make space for himself and giving time for Haaland to make the run
Coupled with his immense speed, Sancho is one of the league’s best dribblers this season, beating players with a combination of his close control of the ball as well as turn of pace. He is ranked 4th for successful dribbles this season with 3.65 per90, beating the likes of Kingsley Coman and Leroy Sane.
When dribbling with the ball, Sancho is hardly ever dispossessed, almost like the ball is glued to his feet, thanks to his ball-control. His composure with the ball is also a feature of his in which he doesn’t panic when players surround him, instead shifting the ball to create space to maneuver. For his assist against Monchengladbach, Sancho realizes a defender is pressing from behind and cuts back to create space for himself to find Bellingham. He immediately makes a run to the box for the one-two, and he does receive it. In this instance, he is surrounded by 4 players, which included Haaland’s marker. He somehow managed to shift the ball and pokes it towards the Norwegian for the goal. A goal of quality refined from the streets of South London.
Despite being surrounded by white shirts, Sancho still manages to find Haaland
Does He Fit United?
With Sancho heavily linked with a move to the red side of Manchester for the past 2 seasons, I thought it would be sensible to compare him with United’s current right winger – Mason Greenwood. Greenwood has been a regular at the right-wing spot for United as of late and despite enduring a tough first half of the season due to personal reasons, Greenwood is now looking more like the player we saw in Project Restart at the tail-end of last season.
That said, Greenwood is a pure goal-scorer and would prefer to be played through the middle instead of the right flank. Daniel James is another occupant of the position, but his best position is on the left flank where he excelled at for Swansea. The lack of a natural right winger has hindered United’s chance creation for many years now, with attacks heavily reliant on the left and center of the pitch. Wan-Bissaka as we know, may not be as great offensively as he is defensively, which limits the opportunities created on the right channel. It is also widely reported that Ole is a keen admirer of the 21-year-old’s performances with the Black and Yellow in recent seasons and planned on bringing him to the Theater of Dreams last season, only to be priced out of the move. A pure right-winger in the mold of Jadon Sancho to United makes sense, but how does he compare with the 19-year-old prodigy? The dashboard below highlights playmaking abilities in Passes into Penalty Area and Crosses, defensive attribute such as Tackles + Interceptions and Pressures, as well as attacking attributes in Carries into Penalty Area and Shots.
As we can see, Sancho clearly dominates Greenwood in the playmaking department. This proves that Sancho is a more creative presence than Greenwood. With his playmaking abilities, perhaps less burden would be placed on Fernandes’s shoulder as the sole creator of the side who struggle against teams on the low block. Having a reliable right winger can also reduce the attacking burden of Wan-Bissaka, who is constantly isolated at the right flank when Greenwood moves inside the box. In terms of defending, it is Greenwood who reigns supreme. This is perhaps indicative of how Ole wants his wingers to track back and apply pressure on oppositions, constantly helping the team no matter the situation.
When it comes to ball carrying, Sancho is amongst the best in Europe and would certainly suit United’s counter attacking style of football against stronger opposition. Alongside Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial or Mason Greenwood, Manchester United would have a brilliant face-paced attacking trio capable of breaking down teams on the low block as well as scoring from counter attacks. Lastly, when it comes to shots, Greenwood records 3.13 shots per90 whereas Sancho has 2.25 shots per90. If anything, this goes to show Greenwood’s natural ability and instincts, proving that he is United’s solution to a striker for years to come.
Back to Manchester?
From City’s teenage prospect to Dortmund’s mercurial winger, Sancho has become one of the core players for the German outfit alongside Haaland, Bellingham and Reyna. His importance to the team is reflected on his transfer fee where he is reportedly priced at £120 million last season. Manchester United, were especially keen with the player, having followed the transfer saga for 8 weeks before ultimately pulling out due to insufficient funds. Clearly, the transfer saga over the summer has been playing on the winger’s mind as performances earlier in the season hasn’t been up to par with his previous two when he constantly terrorize defenders and took the league by storm. The winger did eventually pick his form up at the turn of the year and has since reminded everybody of the talent and quality he possesses. However, the rich vein of form halted when he was ruled out for more than a month due to an injury.
Although it is unfair to place the blame on Sancho, he does share a responsibility alongside his teammates for their struggles in the league. BVB currently sit outside the top 4 and might miss out on Champions League football. Without it, finances will be heavily impacted, especially in this pandemic riddled world. Dortmund may be forced to sell one of their key players out of necessity, and Sancho’s name has been thrown in the hat of uncertainty in recent weeks. Reports suggest Manchester United could yet again come for him, this time for a far lesser price. So now it begs the question, should United spend the money on Sancho?
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