The 2021 summer transfer season saw the Premier League astronomically increase in value with some of the world’s most brilliant talent added to the crown of English football. There’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Raphael Varane bringing back hope to the Man United faithful; there’s Romelu Lukaku returning to Stamford Bridge with blood in his eyes and Jack Grealish moving to the blue side of Manchester to decorate Pep Guardiola’s bedazzled midfield, just to name a few. But there’s a signing who, for two years was the talk on the lips of many football journalists, has now mummed to the back of the cue of priority signings: Jadon Sancho.
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer operates a 4-2-3-1 double pivot, behind the three attacking midfielders rotating and moving in space to create chances for the number 9. Greenwood and Rashford play the wide roles in the three very well, as they combine athleticism with skill to add goals and assists to their portfolio and ultimately improve the Red Devil’s final product. However, Jadon Sancho plays as a ball carrying winger, who sizes up fullbacks and isolates them to create opportunities for passes or take ons. But he may not have the opportunity to play like that in England – And here’s why.
Germany’s Jadon Sancho may not work in England
Sancho operated on the left side of a 4-2-3-1 during his 2019/2020 spell in Germany, with the likes of Haaland, Brandt and Hakimi making runs around him and creating space. That season saw him register 17 goals and 16 assists, playing as a floating left sided winger. In many German football enthusiasts’s eyes, Jadon was the best player in the land at the time, who posed a menace to many right sided centre backs and fullbacks squaring off with him week in week out. However, the same traits that made him so good in Germany are the same traits that made him overlooked by England coach Gareth Southgate.
Jadon’s gameplay is heavily dependent on the ball being at his feet. He has an uncanny ability to square up defenders and dictate play from the flank which forces full backs to commit and open up unwanted spaces in behind. However, without the ball, he offers only width on the pitch, which poses a problem to a team that doesn’t depend on width.
Why Sancho didn’t fit Southgate’s set up
In the England set up, Southgate’s system pivots on the athletic dexterity of the team. Players must be as effective off the ball as they are on it. Hence, Gareth Southgate saw Sancho as more of a player the team had to accommodate for, rather than an invaluable asset for the starting 11.
With Harry Kane playing as the focal point and dropping deep to pull players out of position, gaps were left for Mason Mount, Raheem Sterling, Phil Foden etc to collect the ball in pockets of space. For Jadon Sancho, his talent is best shown when players run around him while he’s on the ball, as a wealth of opportunities open up for him.
However, in the England and Manchester United set up, we won’t be afforded that luxury. Solskjaer has organized his midfield to operate with Bruno and Pogba as the main holders of the ball, while everyone else operates as an outlet to make a key pass or finish. Jadon, who has established himself as a ball carrying winger, will now have to also make runs off the ball if he wishes to make an impact on the pitch at United. A player like Jesse Lingard for example, has built his career on making intelligent runs from wide areas.
With time, Sancho will adapt his style to best fit the team. However, with Marcus Rashford’s return to the fold imminent and Lingard’s impressive run of performances continuing, Sancho may end up finding himself on the outside looking in for the majority of this season. Ultimately, he’s in a race against time to get up to speed with United’s style of play.