Jadon Sancho: Failure or moving in the right direction?
Jadon Sancho arrived at Old Trafford in 2021 for a fee of £73m and was viewed as the answer to the team’s long-term right-wing issues.
Two years later Sancho has not cemented a consistent spot in the team.
However, a positive pre-season and a closer look into last season suggest Sancho’s Manchester United career could be slowly moving in the right direction.
Jadon Sancho at Manchester United so far.
Jadon Sancho arrived in the team just before the collapse of the team Ole Gunnar Soslkjaer had been building for the previous two and a half years.
Poor squad building in midfield, the signing of club legend Cristiano Ronaldo and Harry Maguire’s poor form after the European Championships led to United being in relegation form before Ole Gunnar Solskjær was sacked.
Sancho was not the only player hit with low confidence and poor form.
Marcus Rashford, Luke Shaw, Anthony Martial and Harry Maguire were the ones that suffered the most.
Many thought Sancho’s resurgence would come under new manager Erik Ten Hag.
Sancho impressed last pre-season alongside Martial and Rashford as they looked like a front three that could be promising.
Ten Hag was given the keys to Old Trafford after the opening two games.
Manchester United had lost 2-1 to Brighton and 4-0 to Brentford.
Up to that point they had only signed Christian Eriksen (free) and Lisandro Martinez (£47m + £8.5m add-ons).
Between the Brentford loss and the 1st September, United’s transfer expenditure rose to £229m.
However, in between Sancho had his best moment in a United shirt.
He has had better performances since.
But, his goal against Liverpool reminded everyone of his ability.
Sancho took the ball back to goal on his left, swivelling; he went to curl the ball into Alisson Becker’s top left.
Then he stopped.
James Milner and Alisson Becker slid attempting to block a shot that never came.
Then Sancho easily went the other.
Sancho had remained in the same spot but this time with half the goal to aim at that was not previously there.
He scored to make it 1-0 for Manchester United against Liverpool.
This goal summed up why Sancho is so good.
Jadon Sancho was calm, he waited for the best moment and his technique was sublime.
The following week Sancho scored the winner at Leicester.
Sancho was starting to pick up form and calls for the England squad in Qatar.
Following this Sancho played 90 minutes once and scored against Spurs before an extended hiatus away from Old Trafford.
During this time he missed eight league games.
Erik Ten Hag sent him to train in the Netherlands with coaches recommended by himself.
He also did not make the World Cup squad.
“He [Sancho] has had some really good performances [earlier in the season] and was going in a good direction. But in the last weeks, he struggled with illness. Then it’s normal that you don’t get the nomination for [the World Cup]. Every manager will take only fit players to the World Cup.”
Sancho’s form after his elongated time out the side was patchy.
There were good moments but also stretches in games that felt like Sancho was letting them pass him by.
Which has summed up Sancho’s career in a Manchester United shirt.
This is unlike Sancho who at Borussia Dortmund was often the main event, even in a team with Premier League top goalscorer Earling Haaland.
Heading in the right direction?
Overall, last Jadon Sancho finished the season with a G+Ap90 (goal and assist per 90) of 0.48.
It is far from elite but considering it was not an ideal season for the winger it is not far off a good one.
Low confidence, mixed with illness, a new manager and an extended break is a bad combination to find your footing at Manchester United.
On top of a reasonable return last season, once again Jaden Sancho has started pre-season well.
Sancho scored against Arsenal and has earned praise for his performances from Erik Ten Hag.
During preseason he has played at 9 and 10 mostly.
This is unlikely to be a long-term plan.
However, it makes sense.
Sancho’s role in attacks is similar to Basketball’s ‘connector’ archetype.
Connectors in offence, help the attacks flow.
His best moments in the preseason have been doing just that.
By playing centrally, Sancho has been able to be more involved.
He has been able to give options to teammates, and drag defenders towards him and away from his teammates giving them more room to operate.
Sancho tries this on the wing but he is often more isolated which leads to the feeling he is on the periphery.
The other reason for this is Sancho last season seemingly lost his willingness to take on fullbacks.
Something he has improved upon this preseason.
However, it is just preseason it does not prove Sancho will continue in this vein.
Most likely, Jaden Sancho will not remain as a number 9.
Rasmus Højlund has been signed and will be Manchester United’s present and future in at number 9.
However, with the positives from last season and a good preseason, it does suggest Sancho could be on his way to a positive season in a Manchester United shirt.
If Sancho’s bravery and directness on the ball have returned Old Trafford could see a completely different player next year.
Manchester United’s attack lacks his skill set so if he can be as direct as the players ahead of him in the team he could easily find himself first choice.
His best bet is dislodging Anthony on the right, but positive showings as a 10 could give him a long-term future.