Manchester United want to take the next step. In Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's first full season in charge, they reached three semi-finals. Then, last season, they finished second in the Premier League and lost the Europa League final to Villarreal. The challenge now is to go from runners-up to winners – domestically and in Europe. Their £73 million signing of Jadon Sancho was made with that in mind.
Sancho has played in Manchester before, but for City. He left in 2017, as a teenager, to join Borussia Dortmund. It was in the Bundesliga where he made his name, appearing over 100 times during four seasons. Now 21 years old, he will attempt to nail down a starting place at Manchester United. Here, we at Tribal Football analyse what he brings to Solskaer's team and how he can move them closer to major honours.
WHAT DOES SANCHO BRING TO MANCHESTER UNITED?
Throughout his career, Sancho has played predominantly on the wing. While right-footed, he has proven himself capable of operating on either flank, with a preference for coming inside. He possesses excellent close control and agility, which helps him to retain the ball in tight situations, and he makes use of feints and step-overs to commit defenders before ghosting past them.
While his strength will be tested in the Premier League, Sancho has a good turn of pace and will threaten on counter-attacks. He is also dangerous around the edge of the penalty area, from where he is highly efficient at picking out runs with well-timed, precisely weighted through balls. However, while primarily a creator, he did average a goal every two or three games during three full seasons of first-team football at Dortmund.
Solskjaer prefers a 4-2-3-1 system, with Bruno Fernandes playing behind Edinson Cavani. Marcus Rashford usually takes up the left wing position, meaning Sancho will probably begin his Manchester United career on the right-hand side. He should have no problem adjusting to the position, having occupied that area consistently for Dortmund.
HOW DOES SANCHO COMPARE TO HIS NEW TEAMMATES?
Solskjaer occasionally plays Paul Pogba on one of the flanks for big games where the Frenchman moves to make room for an extra defensive midfielder. Anthony Martial, now seen as a striker, has also been utilised on the wing. However, Sancho's main rivals for a starting place will be Rashford, Mason Greenwood and Daniel James. All four of these players bring different qualities to the team.
Rashford is at his best with space to work with. He can be devastating in transition, sprinting into the areas left open to score on fast counters. From organised play he makes clever runs in behind defences to latch onto balls over the top, getting through on goal. However, he can also slalom in from the left wing, his preferred starting position, and dribble past defenders.
Greenwood is the opposite, preferring to come in from the right onto his favoured left foot. While Rashford is a 'finisher' of chances created by others, Greenwood is someone who tries to force opportunities for himself, constantly trying to work a shooting angle any time he nears the box.
James is seen as more of a 'role player', starting specifically when Manchester United intend to counter-attack. With blistering speed, he likes to stay wide where there is space to get on the ball and run at defenders.
Sancho can score, but this is not the defining feature of his game as it is with Rashford or Greenwood. And while he is quick, he is not the counter-attacking specialist that James is. Rather, he is the 'creator' in this quartet.
Compared to Rashford, Greenwood and James, Sancho is better at dribbling and retaining in tight areas, more comfortable combining with teammates, and is a more reliable provider of the final ball. The data appears to back up the eye test. According to WhoScored, Sancho shot less frequently than Rashford or Greenwood last season, but he set up more shots, assisted more goals, and was more successful on the dribble.
WHY SANCHO CAN MAKE UNITED'S ATTACK MORE EFFECTIVE
Manchester United are renowned as a counter-attacking force, a team of great pace that thrives when they aren't given possession by default. Sancho will fit the existing model, but the major impact he will make is likely to be seen more in organised attacking play.
One of the recurring problems for Solskjaer's side in recent years was playing through compact defences. Underlying this is the issue was attackers not showing for the ball or finding space between the lines. Sancho may be a winger, but he often drifts inside and looks for pockets. He is also better than Greenwood and James at retaining with his back to goal under pressure from a defender.
All of this should help United get up the pitch. And, once in the final third, Sancho will inject greater quality and variety to the team's play. His dribbling can take out defenders, while his ability to combine may help unite an at times disparate frontline. Of course he can score goals, while his precise final pass to set up runners in behind (see above) should lead to goals for Rashford, Cavani and Fernandes.
Solskjaer's Manchester United have always been capable of ripping opponents open on the counter. Now, with the addition of Sancho, an individual of great dexterity, creativity and accuracy, they have more solutions to the dreaded low block.