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Jadon Sancho – Has he finally turned a corner at United?

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In the summer of 2020, Manchester United fans were taken on a rollercoaster ride in their pursuit of a certain English winger who was ripping up the Bundesliga. When he didn’t arrive, the meltdown on Social Media was immense. Although the move failed to materialize, their pursuit never ended. A young, 20 year old winger who had the courage of leaving his homeland at a young age and making a name for himself in a foreign league. A player who came through the ranks at Manchester City, alongside a certain Phil Foden (another England starlet) was destined to be a success right from the get-go. But first team opportunities in a star studded Guardiola side were always going to be limited, and so a trembling teenager of touch & tease moved to Dortmund & look how that turned out.

THE FISRT DANCE!!

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When Sancho came on as a substitute in United’s 5-1 opening day victory over their arch-nemesis Leeds, he received a thunderous reception from the Old Trafford faithful. As soon as he touched the ball, his elegance on it was a touch above the rest of the players on the pitch. A 20 minute cameo that afternoon promised to be a sign of things to come, but we were in for a disappointing couple of months.

It was evident from the performance against Leeds that Jadon was a player with immense technical ability on the ball, someone who could create goal scoring opportunities for his fellow front men. Whenever he touched the ball, the crowd got up from their seats, sensing something was about to happen. His sudden burst of pace & close ball control caught the eyes of the Old Trafford faithful, who were finally bearing witness to a proper out & out right winger running at the opposition defense.

A TORRID PRE-SEASON:

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Although Sancho’s arrival was confirmed by United at the beginning of the Summer of 2021, he failed to join the club’s pre-season preparation. For any summer signing, pre-season is what helps you get your rhythm back and sync with the rest of your teammates. Adapting to a new formation/tactics takes time, something which Jadon didn’t get. At the beginning of the season Sancho also fell ill and missed a week’s training because of which he was always running a race against time to get up to speed.

Initially, Sancho’s signing was seen as Solskjaer’s attempt at forming a young front 3 who could terrorize opposition defenders with their blistering turn of pace, coupled with their intrinsic link up play. With Rashford on the left,  Sancho on the right & Greenwood/Cavani up top, United’s attacking prowess promised to deliver breathtaking action. But then a blockbuster signing changed the complexion of United’s attack, and had a detrimental effect on Sancho.

HOW RONALDO’s ARRIVAL EFFECTED SANCHO?

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Cristiano Ronaldo made a fairytale return to the Theatre of Dreams towards the end of the summer window. His arrival was widely touted as a move that would propel United back to the glory days, but the move had a negative impact on Sancho. With Ronaldo playing as the lone striker, Sancho was initially deployed as a left winger when Rashford was injured. When he came back from injury, Solksjaer was hesitant of dropping either Rashford or Greenwood from the team, something which would come back to haunt him in the future. As Greenwood was deployed as a right winger, Sancho was relegated to the bench which limited first team opportunities for him.

The front 3 of Rashford, Ronaldo & Greenwood was destined to fail from the offset, just because it lacked creativity. In Solksjaer’s 4-2-3-1 formation, Bruno Fernandes was the only creative midfielder. With the wingers always looking to cut inside and have a pop at goal, Ronaldo was often left isolated with next to no service in front of goal. The opposition midfielders often marked Bruno out of the game which is why United failed to score against who just sat back & “parked the bus.” Sancho could’ve offered Ole creativity down the right hand side, but Ole refused to acknowledge. It was only fitting that in Ole’s final game in-charge of United, Sancho was one of the star performers on the right wing once he came on at half time.

Ever since he moved from the left wing to a more central striking role, Cristiano has always been a player who has had creative wingers providing him with assists. During his first stint at United he had players such as Rooney, Nani & even Giggs before that who would provide service to him. Sancho is a player who fits the role perfectly.

Why did he struggle initially?

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Jadon Sancho excels at combination play, often linking up with the wide midfielders or attacking fullbacks in the wider areas. Under Solksjaer, Sancho was often accompanied by Wan Bissaka on the right flank with Bruno as the lone midfield option to link up with. Wan Bissaka does not primarily excel at attacking play, often seemingly lost for ideas in the forward areas. Sancho would often feel frustrated at the hesitant nature of Wan Bissaka, often failing to provide overlaps in the wide areas. This was unlike Dortmund where fullbacks like Guerreiro & Hakimi (before he left) never hesistated from bombing forward to link up with Sancho on either wings.

At Dortmund, Sancho had a plethora of attacking players to link up with & had the freedom of cutting in from either wings to score. At United, such attacking patterns of play were missing under Ole which had a detrimental effect on the player. How can one possibly expect a player who had gotten used to playing in a well-drilled attacking team to transition to a team that virtually had no idea of how to break down teams?

WHAT CHANGED UNDER RANGNICK?

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As Ralf Rangnick arrived at the club, he deployed Sancho as a wide Number 10 alongside Bruno Fernandes with Cavani & Ronaldo up top. It was evident from the first outing itself that the formation had it’s flaws. The 4-2-2-2 formation requires exhaustive pressing for 90 minutes, something which a strike force of Cavani & Ronaldo cannot possibly do even if they’re willing to do so. With Mctominay & Fred in the midfield, Sancho was again left isolated with the lack of creativity in the midfield. Personal reasons prevented him from appearing in a couple of matches where Rangnick shifted to a 4-3-3 system but this might just be the system where Sancho can excel.

With Pogba & Bruna as the box to box midfielders & Dalot as the right fullback, Sancho has the personnel around him that can help him succeed at the club. In a disappointing Cup defeat to Middlesbrough, Sancho was United’s shining light. Although the team scored just the solitary goal, they created 30 clear cut chances to score, their highest tally of chances created this season with most of them coming from the left hand side. Sancho was deployed as a left winger with Rashford on the right. He combined brilliantly with the Luke Shaw, often taking defenders on and created overlaps for Shaw. He topped off his performance with a goal, his first at Old Trafford when he created a 1v1 against the opposition fullback and thundered the ball into the net.

Sancho’s deliveries for Ronaldo & Rashford drifting in from the right flank added an aerial threat for the opposition to deal with. His link up play with Bruno & Pogba, especially when they were being put under pressure by the opposition. His close ball control & intrinsic passing ability has always been widely regarded as one of the world’s best in his age group, and this was on display in the previous outing.

If there was any player who could leave the pitch pleased with his performance was Jadon Sancho. With Greenwood out of the picture for off the field issues, Sancho is now arguably United’s first choice winger who will be deployed on either flanks during the course of the season. It will be interesting to see whether he’s able to build on his performance & become an influential player in the team, starting with the trip to Burnley on Tuesday night.

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