The Sancho situation: how does Solskjaer make the most of star signing?
It was simply Jadon Sancho’s luck in the summer to finally become Manchester United’s great asset… only his long-awaited arrival was immediately overshadowed.
The Red Devils had been chasing the terrifyingly talented winger for many seasons, eventually valuing Borussia Dortmund’s hand with a £73m deal plus extras.
The excitement among fans was such that United had finally got their man, supporters began to talk frantically about the possibility of the England star getting Edinson Cavani’s respected number 7 shirt, thus following in the footsteps of giants before he – including Eric Cantona, David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Jadon Sancho doesn’t have the start to Manchester United’s life he hoped for
Sancho’s arrival was immediately overshadowed by Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to Old Trafford
And then, well… Ronaldo himself went back to Old Trafford only to rule his former kingdom once again. From the outside, it looks like Sancho has been discarded as the toy that is no longer the favorite.
Ronaldo is back and, to be fair to the Portuguese superstar, is more than just delivering the goods. His five goals in five games are mouth-watering and it’s clear why he still remains the main draw, even at 36 years old.
Still, this creates a rather annoying problem for Sancho and the nature in which he is drawn into the United line-up.
Sancho was eliminated in the midweek win over Villarreal, although United needed a goal
The opportunities are limited and everything is focused on helping Ronaldo produce the goods.
At Dortmund, Sancho was the mesmerizing main attraction and formed a deadly partnership with Erling Haaland. Now it’s a whole different story.
Sports post takes a look at the unfolding situation to see how Sancho can get things back on his own terms…
Chance (not) knocking
Ask any United fan about their prediction after Sancho initially signed in the summer and they’d tell you the London-born star would have been the focal point of the attack.
Sancho was brought in to play in and around good friend Marcus Rashford, while also supporting the alternating Mason Greenwood and veteran ace Edinson Cavani.
Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes were on hand to pull the strings and help orchestrate the magic, but now, unbelievably, Sancho finds himself just one of many similar pieces.
The Ronaldo show is only suitable for side-cart assistants, who are willing to perform different shifts with the same job description; give him the ball as fast as possible and play him in the danger zones so that he can attack.
It’s a neat job, of course, as Ronaldo is football royalty, but certainly not what Sancho signed up for.
So far this season, he has made eight appearances in all competitions, with zero goals and zero assists.
Sancho has made eight United appearances in all competitions, with zero goals and zero assists
In the Premier League, Sancho got just 200 minutes of playing time on Solskjaer’s field from five appearances.
It is hardly confidence inspiring, especially when it is emphasized that Sancho has not played Premier League football before.
The precocious talented youngster was snatched away from City before he even got close to the seniors, and was given the platform to perform at the top of Germany and eventually reach the Champions League podium.
Sancho proved more than capable at the highest level, scoring sublime attacks on postcards, including the Nou Camp. Now, however, he must feel that his development is somewhat stagnant.
It’s helpful, of course, to step into Premier League life gradually, but when the minutes are only handed out sparingly with the unique task of looking after the discerning Ronaldo, it’s hard to see where it will actually click for Sancho.
Last season, Sancho played a total of 38 times for Dortmund in all competitions, scoring 16 times and collecting 20 assists. For a winger who only turned 21 in March, those are quite remarkable numbers.
Indeed, it’s exactly the sort of stats that made United so determined to blow each of their rivals out of the water and secure Sancho’s signature, but is the hard work already undone?
One could argue that this may be normal, as Sancho has historically been a late bloomer in the campaign.
Last season, he only grabbed his first goal on matchday 14, after which he became much more involved.
Last season, Sancho played 38 times for Dortmund, scoring 16 goals and collecting 20 assists
This season we may see something similar, albeit with the added context of a brand new club and new teammates to get used to.
Sancho is making fewer runs and coming into the last third of the field than last season, according to Opta, although it would be foolish to suggest that this won’t rise sharply as the season gets underway.
Last year, after first finding the back of the net for Dortmund, Sancho was directly involved in 12 goals in the 10 consecutive games that followed – scoring six himself and providing the same number of assists.
As the season is still in its infancy it wouldn’t make sense to compare a large spread of Sancho’s data with his full set of stats from a very successful season in Germany last season, although some parallels can be drawn.
Sancho had a slow start to last season in Germany but came alive and never looked back
Sancho already averages the same pass completion percentage as last season (84 per cent), showing that the youngster still plays a lot in his usual way of turning the ball around quickly at close range and almost always finding the target.
His current number of expected assists (xA) stands at just 0.09, reflecting the lack of clear opportunities Sancho had to supply the goods for a teammate.
Last season, Sancho closed the campaign with an xA of 10.05 but gave a total of 16.
In very rudimentary terms, it can therefore be predicted that Sancho may be a little more cautious as he takes his first uncertain steps in a United shirt.
Expectations have increased tenfold this season around Old Trafford and players like Sancho will be well aware that there is little margin for error. The critics are also waiting for their comments.
No partner in crime
There’s a reason partnerships catch on so easily in football, and why it can benefit individuals as well as the team itself.
In recent years, Sancho’s click with Haaland led to the box office viewing, helping both players improve exponentially as a result.
The playing styles of both generational talents complemented each other; Sancho did the running and stunned opponents, while Haaland took advantage of the holes in the back line and waited for the Englishman’s killer final passes.
Sancho produced, Haaland scored. Rinse and repeat, week in, week out.
The favor was often returned as well, with Haaland often seen teasing the opponent’s backline to force possession, before playing Sancho behind the lines to use his killer gear.
Sancho has yet to show the same partnership with United forwards that he had with Haaland
What does this have to do with United though?
Well, not only is Sancho learning a new style of football in an unfamiliar environment, he’s also scanning Old Trafford’s ranks for players on a similar wavelength.
While it’s clear that he gets on well with both Rashford and Greenwood at United’s Carrington base, neither player offers similar qualities to Haaland, in terms of his all-round play and sheer dominance in the final third.
The closest thing United can offer in this regard is Ronaldo himself, although over the course of a wildly successful career it has become abundantly clear that the Portuguese is not just making a healthy contribution to a respected pair: Ronaldo is and will always be the only one. being a ranger.
When the going gets tough, Ronaldo turns to himself to get things done. You only need to look back to Wednesday night’s game with Villarreal and a 95th minute winner to see this in action.