Secured for a hefty £75 million in the summer of 2021, Jadon Sancho's tenure at Manchester United has been a series of unexpected twists and turns. His debut season was marked by instability, as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's departure led to Ralf Rangnick stepping in as interim manager, which likely disrupted the consistent coaching Sancho needed to thrive.
Sancho's Prolific Season at Borussia Dortmund
There are differences when comparing Jadon Sancho's performance during his last season with Borussia Dortmund in the 2020-2021 Bundesliga and his subsequent seasons with Manchester United. In his last season at the Bundesliga, he scored 0.31 non-penalty goals per 90 minutes, which was better than 75% of his peers, proving his reliability as a goalscorer. He also excelled as a creator with an impressive xAG (expected assists goals) per 90 minutes of 0.34, which placed him among the top 24% of players.
In addition, his shot-creating actions per 90 minutes were higher than 85% of players, highlighting his crucial role in Dortmund's attacking play. This high attacking involvement was complemented by his ball-carrying abilities, where he carried the ball forward 7.42 times per 90 minutes, placing him above 88% of players. Sancho's impressive performance in the Bundesliga attracted Manchester United's attention, culminating in his move to the Premier League in 2021.
The Shift in Performance: Sancho's Debut Season at Manchester United
Sancho's first season with Manchester United in the 2021-2022 Premier League showed some changes in his performance. He scored fewer non-penalty goals per 90 minutes, dropping to the 33rd percentile among attacking midfielders and wingers. His non-penalty xG (expected goals) also decreased, indicating a decline in the quality of his scoring chances compared to his time at Dortmund. However, Sancho remained a significant playmaker for United. His xAG per 90 minutes increased to 0.19, ranking him higher than 63% of players. His shot-creating actions remained strong at 4.17 per 90 minutes, putting him in the top 21% of players. Despite the drop in goal scoring, these statistics indicate that Sancho is still important in creating opportunities for his team.
Erik Ten Hag's Influence and Sancho's Second Season at United
The subsequent 22/23 season opened with fresh hopes under the guidance of Erik Ten Hag, who saw in Sancho a potential possession-based winger. The same role that Sancho had thrived in at Borussia Dortmund, becoming a sensation with his incisive interplay leading to spectacular goals and assists. Yet, as the season unfolded, it became apparent that Sancho needed a breather. In response, Ten Hag granted him a sabbatical during the World Cup, giving him the space to regain his focus and return with renewed energy.
Sancho's second season at United in the 2022-2023 Premier League saw further changes in his output. His non-penalty goals per 90 minutes increased significantly to 0.32, catapulting him into the 77th percentile. This indicated that he was regaining his form as a goalscorer. He continued to be a potent creator with his xAG per 90 minutes rising to 0.27, positioning him in the 87th percentile. His shot-creating actions also increased to 4.64 per 90 minutes, elevating him to the 91st percentile, underlining his pivotal role in United's attack.
Comparing Sancho and Garnacho: The Rising Stars of United
The turn of the New Year saw Sancho's performances take an upward swing, albeit still missing a certain edge in his approach on the wing. When put side by side with Alejandro Garnacho, United's promising young winger, Sancho's seeming reluctance to take on his man starkly contrasts with Garnacho's assertiveness.
Sancho's tally in his second season stopped at six goals and three assists in 26 appearances, a figure that did not quite hit the high notes that were anticipated of him. With Garnacho securing a long-term deal with United, the pressure is on Sancho to step up his game next season.
The Challenge Ahead: Sancho's Future Role at United
Sancho's total shots per 90 minutes remained low across his seasons at United, suggesting a potential lack of confidence or a more conservative style of play. Regardless, his consistent involvement in creating opportunities, advancing the ball through progressive passes, and his active involvement in the final stages of the team's attacks, as evidenced by his touches in the attacking penalty area, demonstrated his integral role in Manchester United's offensive play.
As discussions around a potential role shift for Sancho to an advanced midfielder role gather momentum, the recent inclusion of Mason Mount makes this proposition uncertain. Sancho, despite the challenges, has displayed sparks of brilliance during his stint at Manchester United. There's a strong case that an elite forward, akin to his former teammate Erling Haaland, could be the missing puzzle piece. Nevertheless, Sancho must ramp up his intensity and deliver on the pitch.
The comparison of Sancho's performance across his final season at Dortmund and his two seasons at United shows an evolution in his play. From his high-scoring days at Dortmund, Sancho has transitioned into a more balanced role at United, contributing significantly as both a goal-creator and a goalscorer. Despite facing challenges, particularly in his debut season at United, his progressive improvement and consistent performance as an attacking midfielder/winger prove his valuable contribution to the team's attacking play.
Manchester United supporters have been disappointed, witnessing Sancho's lacklustre performances at times and early departures from games. As a new season approaches, expectations are high, elite wing play is what's anticipated and it's time for Sancho to step up to the plate.