If you had listened to the noise surrounding Jadon Sancho so far this season, you would’ve safely assumed that the 21-year-old had been really struggling to adapt at Manchester United. Those who watched him knew it was only a matter of time before he exploded into action. That happened against Villarreal on Tuesday.
The former Borussia Dortmund star was in fine form against the Spanish side. While the Reds struggled to sustain many attacks at Estadio de la Cerámica in the opening half, everything good for Michael Carrick’s side was coming through their £72 million signing.Embed from Getty Images
A delicate pass to Donny van de Beek, who was overlapping the winger inside the area; and a dangerous cross into Cristiano Ronaldo were glimpses of Sancho’s attacking prowess in the opening period, but it was the link-up and combination play as United tried to get a hold on the game where the Englishman’s strengths were really being shown.
It was an intricate one-two with Van de Beek which sent Sancho into a central area, where he drove with the ball and eventually found a pinpoint pass through the lines to Anthony Martial on the left when many would’ve realised how dangerous the wide man can be when entering central areas.
It was some more link-up play in the final third with Bruno Fernandes that saw Sancho go close to scoring his first United goal, but he forced a good save from Gerónimo Rulli after he danced his way into the box. It wasn’t too long until Sancho’s efforts were rewarded though.
Sancho’s last-minute goal secured United’s qualification to the Champions League knockouts and was the cherry on top of a splendid performance. Getting the ball on the right side of the box, The winger’s shot cannoned into the net off the underside of the crossbar, leaving Gerónimo Rulli no chance of saving it.
While Cristiano Ronaldo was awarded the Man of the Match award after the encounter, I don’t think there was a question on who the best player on the park was.Embed from Getty Images
But, some would’ve been surprised at seeing the summer signing burst alight on the European stage. After all, beforehand the young winger had yet to contribute to a goal in any of his 14 appearances in red.
However, when looking slightly deeper you’d notice that only seven of those 14 appearances had Sancho play longer than 45 minutes, and he was often found hugging to touchline rather than coming inside and creating like he showed against Villarreal. An illness at the start of the campaign also didn’t help with his transition back to England.
It was also clearly not an ideal scenario, with United also looking poor as a collective, but, when Sancho did play, it was always obvious what he was going to be able to bring when given a regular chance in the side.
Back-to-back performances against Watford and Villarreal provide dividends to this assertion, with Sancho being a standout for United in both fixtures.
With Mason Greenwood currently unavailable due to him contracting Covid-19, this is the perfect time for Sancho to play consistent minutes on the right-hand side and continue to show why he is one of the most talented young wingers in world football.
It was not Sancho’s attacking flair that caught Carrick’s eye though, but his work out of possession in a match where United needed to dig in and soak up the Spanish pressure for long periods of the game.
“I was so pleased for Jadon, I thought he worked his socks off tonight, I thought he gave everything tonight.” Praised Carrick to club media.
“At times, it wasn’t always with the ball and I know how much he enjoys the ball at his feet and trying to make things happen. He showed a different side tonight and, to get his goal at the end, pretty much capped it off perfectly for him and for us.”
The wide man had an important role on the right side of a midfield four when United were out of possession, with a strong defensive showing. Perhaps a role that counterparts in Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood wouldn’t have performed as successfully as Sancho did.Embed from Getty Images
It’s doubtful that this will be the focus for Sancho in the coming weeks though. With some difficult fixtures against Chelsea and Arsenal, he will be expected to show more of the final third class that he’s beginning to transfer across from his time in Germany. It was only a matter of time before he exploded into life. It happened in Spain, but now it needs to stick in England.