One of Manchester United’s best players during Sunday’s win over Leicester City was Jadon Sancho and he came on at half-time.
The 22-year-old recently made his comeback to the side following an extended break away from the first team. It was a decision made by United manager Erik ten Hag before the World Cup, and one that has been praised on many occasions.
Since his return to the first team, Sancho has already scored twice in five appearances, including getting United’s third on Sunday against Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester City side. His creative ability has also been sharp but shaky finishing means he is yet to register an assist since his return.
Ten Hag brought Sancho off the bench at half-time, and the Englishman did not disappoint, making a brilliant cameo in the second half. He also played as the number 10, rather than his usual left or right-wing position.
The Dutchman’s decision to deploy Sancho in that role against The Foxes was something the United manager also did in Sancho’s first game back following his break, against Nottingham Forest.
Playing as a 10 on Sunday, Sancho was able to drift around the pitch and link up with United players on both the left and right-hand side, although he tended to favour the right, as his heatmap from Sunday showed.
Whilst he tended to operate more in the right half-space than anywhere else when United were attacking, although he did at times drop deeper to receive the ball or drift over to the left.
Sancho certainly fits the profile for a quality number 10 and has some key attributes which can help him thrive in that role. Here is a more in-depth look at what those attributes are, how they shone through during his cameo on Sunday, and how they all contributed to his goal.
One of the most prominent features of Sancho’s overall game, which was clear to see on Sunday, is how effective his combination play is.
The 22-year-old was able to drift everywhere in the final third to help United progress the ball forward quicker thanks to a series of quick one-twos and intelligent movement into space ahead.
One of the best examples of this was when Sancho and the rejuvenated Aaron Wan-Bissaka were able to progress United forward in the second half. Sancho picked up the ball deep in Leicester’s half before he carried it forward himself. When the pass to Wan-Bissaka came available, the two combined for nine passes together, before Wan-Bissaka found Bruno Fernandes.
This sharp combination play was a prominent feature of Sancho’s game throughout his time at Borussia Dortmund. He excelled in linking up with the likes of Achraf Hakimi and Erling Haaland.
Having intelligent players around him to link up with and create patterns of play like what we saw against Leicester will certainly elevate Sancho’s, and United’s performances regularly.
Against Leicester, Sancho’s progressive passing into the final third really stood out. He constantly made the correct decision on the ball, and that showed in him completing 93% pass accuracy. This included 16/16 final third passes; only Fernandes attempted and completed more.
As his pass map for passes in the final third (courtesy of Stats Zone) shows, Sancho was productive in his progressive play and was constantly able to help United to get the ball forward quickly but smartly.
The England international also played three key passes, and created one big chance, according to SofaScore, with Fernandes and Fred the only players to make more. Sancho added extra quality to United in the final third, and to create this many chances in just 45 minutes of football is exceptional output.
Movement and Intelligence
On Saturday, Sancho also excelled in his movement both on and off the ball. He often made runs off the ball which created space for teammates to run into, or to make himself a better option for a pass. His footballing intelligence shone through, and he showed excellent spatial awareness to create opportunities for United.
It was Sancho’s movement with the ball at his that helped create space for Wout Weghorst to exploit and eventually get a shot off, one which was saved by Danny Ward. He had the ball in a central position, running towards the Foxes’ goal and two defenders.
Sancho gravitated more towards the left-hand side to drag the Leicester defenders to the side and create room for Weghorst to run into. He was then able to find the Dutchman with a smart pass, although the chance was missed.
How he scored his goal
Sancho’s goal was a perfect example of these three stand-out features from his 45-minute cameo. It featured some excellent movement and intelligence, clever combination play, and progressive passing to create a goal-scoring opportunity.
Firstly, Sancho got into space between the lines. He was able to drift into a pocket of space left occupied behind Boubakary Soumare and receive the ball off Marcus Rashford. This excellent movement allowed him to get on the ball unmarked and run directly towards the Leicester penalty box.
He then carried the ball forward, waiting for the perfect opportunity to find the pass or get a shot off. As it happened, Sancho moved the ball into Fernandes’ path on the right. The Englishman also held onto the ball just long enough to draw out Wout Faes far enough out of position and attract him towards Fernandes. This, in turn, created more space for him to attack. This was smart play from Sancho, who recognised the chance at creating space for himself to exploit.
It was in this vacant area that Sancho scored from. His combination play, which was excellent throughout the game, came into use again, this time with Fernandes. The Portugal international quickly returned the pass to Sancho, who had already made his run into the space he created for himself. This quick one-two with United’s number eight was an excellent example of Sancho’s quick combination play in dangerous areas.
It was then simply a case of Sancho finishing off the move. He met Fernandes’ return pass and turned the ball in past Danny Ward with a deft touch to put United 3-0 up and seal the win for Ten Hag’s side.
Overall, it was a piece of brilliance from the Englishman to help create a goal and finish off the move himself. Throughout the game, he showed assets which will be invaluable to Ten Hag and United this season.
It was arguably one of his best games yet in red. Sancho is an unbelievable player, and there is no doubt that the United manager will continue to get the best out of him. It really feels like he can kick on from here and thrive for years to come at Old Trafford.
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