After a frustrating and long transfer saga, Manchester United have finally got their man. United were considering alternatives, one of them being Bayern Munich’s Kingsley Coman but Jadon Sancho has been their priority for that right-wing position all along. After a sterling spell in the Bundesliga, reports said Sancho has been chomping at the bit to showcase his talents in the premier league.
Manchester United fans are excited as they have witnessed a rather narrow movement on the flanks. With Sancho’s arrival they are likely to see some old-fashioned wing-play. Sancho is not a player who only runs with the ball at his feet. His unique skill set – consistent ball progression up the pitch and incredible vision will add some much-needed creativity to Manchester United’s frontline.
In 2020-21, with Lucien Favre switching to a back-four with an extra central attacking midfielder, Sancho was more of an orthodox winger on both sides: with 45% of his minutes being on the left, and 37% being on the right. On the left, he was supported by an offensively minded full-back like Raphael Guerreiro, and on the right with a more reserved full-back in Thomas Meunier. Sancho’s attacking output was still consistent on either flank, proving his versatility and the level of quality he brings to an attack. However, it was on the left where he was in scintillating form last season by creating chances for his teammates as well as scoring. He was in the 88th percentile among wingers for xG from shot creating actions in the Bundesliga. Among under-23 midfielders and forwards with at least 900 minutes, his average of 0.48 assists per 90 is the best in the Bundesliga and only bettered by Real Madrid’s Rodrygo across Europe’s top five leagues last season.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has deployed a 4-2-3-1 for the majority of the season and looks to be his preferred formation. This has lead to quiet a lot of debate amongst United fans about Sancho and Greenwood. Many fans believe that United don’t need Sancho because of Greenwood, and signing Sancho will hinder his development. However, when you look at Manchester City’s squad they have Sterling, Mahrez, Torres, Jesus, Silva, and Foden all of whom can play in the wide areas in his system. The immensely talented Mason Greenwood started mainly on the right-wing for Manchester United last season. Greenwood at his age has been playing very good considering he is not an out-an-out winger. The difficulty with Mason Greenwood is that he is naturally a centre-forward, this means he likes to cut inside and play off Cavani rather than stay wide. Unlike Rashford, who has a nice blend of width and central play to his game. With Sancho’s signing, Solskjaer will be hoping for the same on the right-wing as well.
United’s main problem last season was to break teams who defend deep in a low block. With the arrival of Bruno Fernandes, this was diminished but United still struggled against the bottom half teams of the premier league, games against West Brom at the Hawthorns instantly spring to mind. Sancho would solve United’s struggles as he likes to drift wide and hug the touchline much more than any of United’s current wingers, which will help in stretching out the opposition’s low defensive block.
Usually teams sit very deep in their defensive shape to block off the central areas and force their opponents out wide. Having wingers providing width alongside the fullback at certain times in the game, this would also help Aaron Wan Bissaka to develop an understanding of when to overlap and when to drop off. This means that the opposition has to push two players over to press, creating space in behind them, making it easier for United to break teams down through the flanks.
Last season, United’s width was provided by the fullback, with the wingers moving centrally and linking up with Cavani. This does not create enough width and hence, United struggled to break teams down. As stated before, the interchanging of forward positions disorientates the opponent’s backline. Another benefit of the forward rotations is to make sure that the opponent’s defenders don’t get too comfortable defending against one player. If a player is struggling on one side against a defender, the forwards can rotate, allowing the players to try and matchup against a different defender to see how they fare against them instead.
As Solskjaer likes his forward players to be positionally fluid, Sancho would fit United’s attacking system easily. In this regard, as he has had many years of experience at operating in a frontline where he has to constantly interchange with the forwards around him, so he would get the hang of the system quickly for Manchester United.
A weakness Sancho possesses is a lack of defensive contributions. In terms of tackling statistics, Mason Greenwood attempts a higher number of tackles with an average of 1.1 per game and has a success rate of 0.6, which is a brilliant number for an attacking player. Sancho, on the other hand, attempts one tackle on average per 90, but only has a success rate of 0.4 per 90. Sancho is also dribbled past 0.6 times per game in a 1v1 duel, with Greenwood being dribbled past 0.5 times per 90. Regardless of the lack of defensive contributions, though Sancho’s attacking prowess massively outweighs what he is likely to give to Manchester United in defensive terms. Solskjaer will certainly be looking for Sancho to improve on these statistics, for the good of his tactical system nonetheless, but he will not be worried.
If there is one position in the starting 11 that Manchester United needed to greatly improve, it was clearly on the right-wing. Greenwood is still only 19, and with a risk of him burning out, Solskjaer was looking to have another quality player capable of playing in the position. Sancho is a better fit for the right-side in comparison to Greenwood, as he is a natural winger and is just as good in the wide areas, as he is centrally. Sancho brings youth, pace, skill, quality, and attacking efficiency to Manchester United’s line-up, to add to their already prolific team.
If Sancho adapts to the challenging demands of the Premier League and can create healthy chemistry with his teammates, he could help them to put on a convincing title charge and could help them bridge that 12 point gap. At such a young age, he is one of the best players in the world, and by United finally agreeing on a deal to bring him back to the Premier League, Manchester United are making a statement to the rest of Europe’s elite teams that they may just be back to where they belong. Fighting for the most prestigious titles possible, and regardless of his whopping price tag of 85 million euros, he will be worth every penny.