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Player Analysis: What Jadon Sancho brings to Manchester United

Manchester United have secured the signing of Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund for €90 million according to Fabrizio Romano and many United fans are ecstatic with the acquisition after missing out on the 21-year-old last summer.

Sancho is one of the most exciting talents around Europe and has been for the last three seasons. The former Manchester City and Watford player has contributed to 108 goals for Dortmund (50g, 58a) since he moved to Germany from United’s noisy neighbours back in 2017.

This article will be delving into the profile and strengths of Jadon Sancho and how this can benefit United. It will use data (from FBRef) and analysis in order to provide support in this player analysis — let’s get into it.

General profile

Jadon Sancho is a 21-year-old winger. He can operate to a high standard on both the left and right flank, but he is more likely to take the spot on the right-hand side of United’s attack.

The England international has great close control and loves to carry the ball, whether that is in danger areas in the final third or from deeper. Yet, he is also a profound passer of the ball – especially in the final third. Both of these will be analysed later in the piece.

In contrast to many of United’s current wingers, Sancho is strictly a creator and while he does also get on the scoresheet often enough, he provides a great amount of creativity that Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s current options lack.

Aiding progression through link-up and movement

Sancho is able to aid progression due to multiple different assets in his artillery. When dropping into deeper areas, the winger offers impressive link-up and is safe in possession when dropping deeper since he has a consistent first touch and also looks after the ball well after receiving with his close control.

The wide man also picks up some impressive positions between the lines for Dortmund which helps the defenders or midfielders find him from deeper areas and therefore he aids progression through his positioning. In the 2020/21 Bundesliga campaign, Sancho received an average of 9.52 progressive passes per 90. The only United attacker who received more this season was Anthony Martial, who received an average of 9.7 progressive passes per 90 in the Premier League this season.

In the example below we see Sancho peel wide to receive a pass from deep. When the pass comes, he recognises that he is being pressed by the opposition and that has left space for Marco Reus to exploit. Sancho plays a quick pass around the corner in order to bypass the opposition and then Reus can continue to progress the ball up the pitch as he has sufficient space. This is a perfect showing of how Sancho can help to progress the play through his link-up play.

This next example shows Sancho’s impressive movement and positioning in order to receive progressive passes from his defenders. He peels into a central area from the wing and positions himself in a space between two of the opposition midfielders. Mats Hummels plays the pass into the Englishman’s feet and then Sancho’s good control and pass allow good progression for Dortmund.

This would be a great addition to the United right hand side, which can often struggle to progress. Victor Lindelöf can usually pick a pass and with Sancho taking up good positions, he should be able to find him more often and in turn, improve the progression and build-up play from the right side.

Aiding progression through passes and carries

The playmaker can also aid progression for his side through progressive passes of his own, as well as carries from deeper areas. As we can see in the graph below, Sancho has been the best progressive passer and carrier in the Bundesliga the past season against players in similar positions. The wide man averaged 10.4 progressive carries per 90 and 6.46 progressive passes per 90 in the 2020/21 Bundesliga season.

Particularly when Sancho carries the ball forward, he will more than usually release the ball at the correct time in order to make the most of the progression, but he can also sometimes look to continue with the ball and take-on a man; this is shown through the fact he attempted an average of 7.12 dribbles per 90 last season (3.97 successful) it is not always the optimal choice but his quality on the ball gives him this license to try and take-on more players.

In this example, we see Sancho drive into the space with the ball well, but it is his calmness to find the pass in behind to Reus which makes the most of his progression and almost creates a goal. This will be further touched on in the next section too.

The midfielder also can drop deeper and find passes into forward areas, he will usually look to the wide areas where an overlapping full-back is in order to progress the ball, but he also has the capabilities of finding a man between the line himself. Whether he does the former or the latter, Sancho will always look to be an option after his pass; this helps greatly to ensure that his side keeps possession, giving the man on the ball an extra option; he is always comfortable to receive too, even if he has pressure from the opposition. Most of Sancho’s progression through passes do come in areas closer to goal, which will be looked at in the next section.

Tendencies and qualities in the final third

Where Jadon Sancho really proves his worth to Manchester United is in the final third. His profile and tendencies in this area of the pitch are exactly what the club needs from a new winger. He does not only have the right tendencies but also possesses immense quality.

As previously mentioned, Sancho is a creator first and his first instinct in the final third is to always look for the pass, rather with the likes of Marcus Rashford or Mason Greenwood, they want to shoot, they want to score. It is clear that Sancho, even when in dangerous positions, is normally looking to create for his teammates. This is also shown through the fact that he averaged 5.46 shot-creating actions per 90 in the Bundesliga last season, which is higher than Bruno Fernandes‘ average in the Premier League 2020/21 [4.88].

These next two examples will both look to show the clear pass-first instincts that the winger has in and around the box. Firstly, this clip shows that even when Sancho is running inside the box with the ball with a great opportunity to shoot, he realises that Erling Haaland is on his left and will be free if he passes to him and could have a better chance of scoring. While it did not come off, it was a clear example of how Sancho operates around the box.

Again, this next clip shows what Sancho is all about. It’s a similar situation that we’ve become accustomed to seeing at Old Trafford, a player cutting inside from the wing. This time though, instead of shooting when the opportunity arises like the current wingers at United would do, Sancho releases the ball for his teammate and it leads to a goal.

Due to Sancho’s danger when dribbling with the ball, his gravity to attract opposition players towards him is very high. He can take advantage of this by passing to his teammates at the right times, who then have a sufficient amount of time to shoot or continue the attacking move. Notice in the above clip, the central midfielder for the opposition drifts across towards Sancho anticipating a shot from the winger, but it is the space that he left where the shot and goal come from after Sancho’s pass.

Sancho also is very direct when it comes to box entries, he will always look to either pass or drive into the penalty area and this is another reason why he has such high gravity. The graph below shows that Sancho has had one of the highest box entries averages across the last season in the Bundesliga when it comes to passes and carries. The new United man averaged 2.23 carries into the penalty area per 90, but then a staggering average of 3.58 passes into the penalty area per 90; well clear of anyone else in the league.

The 21-year-old usually looks to play cute passes in behind the opposition backline, and this is perfect for Erling Haaland, who constantly looks to make diagonal runs in behind. The clip below shows an example of Sancho’s tendency to find the killer pass when approaching the penalty area, he often looks to play this kind of pass to his fellow forwards, and this would be something that Edinson Cavani would certainly benefit from.

Courtesy of BT Sport

When Sancho is positioned in wider zones in the final third, particularly on the right, he aims to find the feet of his teammates rather than cross into an area. This means that he often looks for cutbacks towards players holding their runs. The image below shows this in action as the winger aims to play into Gio Reyna’s feet rather than cross towards the six-yard box, even though two players were attacking that area.

When Sancho receives the ball in wide areas with space in front of him, he is usually very direct and looks to enter the box as quickly as possible. Then, again he uses his gravity to his advantage and pops the ball off to a teammate when he attracts a number of opposition players. This is usually done to give the teammate a shooting opportunity or a quick one-two.

The clip below shows the directness just mentioned, and then because of this and the quality that he possesses, Sancho attracts four opposition players to the ball, he then has the composure and quality to find Marco Reus, who is left free due to the gravity that Sancho possessed with his drive into the box, and can then score.

Courtesy of BT Sport

While the winger is often direct when approaching the box, he is also quite a smart player and appreciates when it is more beneficial to recycle play or hold onto possession. He is a high-usage wide man and often looks to get on the ball and make things tick. He attempted an average of 64.4 passes per 90 in the Bundesliga last season, which is very high for a winger; Marcus Rashford’s average was just 38.1 yet this does not take into account the league, role and team differences. The wide man, while he often drifts into central areas to try and create, appreciates the benefits of holding position in wide areas and did so at times for Dortmund.

Better ball circulation on the right side of United’s attack would benefit the side, but it is the danger that he offers in possession and the high quality that he possesses in the final third which is what will be more exciting for The Red Devils.

The role of the full-back has to be considered though, as when Jadon Sancho is at his best, he is drifting into the half-spaces to try and create and then will often have the option to play to an overlapping full-back; Aaron Wan-Bissaka will need to develop a good relationship with the wide man in order to get the best out of him.

Conclusion

Every single Manchester United fan will be so excited to see Jadon Sancho in Red and hopefully this article gave you a better idea of how the wide man operates. It is expected that he will help bring United’s attack to the next level next season and with his tactical flexibility of being able to play on the left or the right (or even centrally, as a number ten), he brings more depth and quality along the entire frontline.

It seems that United have had a hole in their right-wing position for years on end, but the signing of this talented 21-year-old should patch that hole for many years to come.

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