It’s believed Jadon Sancho’s summer transfer to Manchester United has moved a step closer with details of the move reportedly ‘almost agreed’.
Former club Man City, Liverpool, Real Madrid, and even Chelsea, the team he supported as a boy, are set to be beaten by their rivals at Old Trafford for one of the most talented wonderkids in world football – although it’s not over yet and things could change rapidly.
But what is it that makes him so prized and set to move sides for what is set to be a British record fee? talkSPORT.com finds out.
The potential that Sancho displayed in the youth system and for the English international youth sides was well known but few believed that the young winger would make such a huge impact at the first-team level a matter of weeks after moving to Germany to join Borussia Dortmund.
Now, after two full seasons in the Dortmund first-team, there are signs that Sancho is ready to take the next step in his career with a move to another elite European side looking increasingly likely.
Manchester United are now firmly in pole position ahead of his former club Man City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Real Madrid for the signature of the 20-year-old wide player.
The purpose of this tactical analysis is to break down the strengths that Jadon Sancho possesses on the pitch as well as identifying the reasons for Sancho being so highly sought after.
Firstly, we will look at some data to see if we can figure out just why Jadon Sancho has become such a highly valued commodity.
Here we have taken data from Wyscout which has been filtered to include wide players in the top 5 leagues who have played more than 1400 minutes in the 2019/20 season. We are looking at using expected goals (xG) data to get a sense of which players are outperforming in terms of goal contributions
Goal contributions are a simple metric that we have found by adding the player’s goals and assists. We have compared this to each player’s expected goals contributions, reached by adding expected goals and expected assists.
The first thing to note is that Sancho is in very good company in his area of the graph with Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe also grouped towards the top of the chart.
Sancho has a lower expected goal contribution (0.64 per 90 minutes) than both Messi and Mbappe but he has a higher actual goal contribution (1.39 per 90 minutes). This means that this season Sancho has been contributing well over a goal a game for Dortmund.
If we isolate the differences between the goal contribution and expected goal contribution for our top 30 performers then the quality of Sancho stands out even more.
He is contributing to 0.75 goals per 90 more than he would be expected to. To put this into context Lionel Messi is contributing to 0.44 goals more than expected and Thomas Muller is third on our list at 0.33 per 90 more.
The output from Sancho this season has been absolutely outstanding.
When Sancho was initially signed by Borussia Dortmund he was expected to develop purely as a wide player. He was quick and agile but still struggled with the physicality of the professional game.
He is still played from the wide areas but he is more adept at moving infield to occupy central spaces when spaces open up in the oppositions defensive block.
From these areas, Sancho can receive possession and dictate the tempo and direction of play. Something that he is relied on more heavily to do by his teammates in Germany this season.
This image is taken from a moment of transition with Dortmund having won back the ball in their own half before quickly moving forward into the final third.
Sancho has drifted inside to collect possession in space ahead of the defensive line and the opposition defenders look to press quickly to catch the advanced players for Dortmund offside.
In these positions, we would generally expect young players to rush the decision to pass or drive forward with the ball but Sancho has the quality to almost pause possession and allow the game to develop ahead of him before making his choice.
We see the benefit of his here as Achraf Hakimi makes a run outside from a deeper area and Sancho is able to play the right-back through behind the advancing defensive line.
We see another situation here as Sancho has moved inside into the half-space to collect possession.
This movement combined with his ability to wait for teammates to make movements around him are key for Dortmund as they look to penetrate into the opposition penalty area.
This time the ball again moves outside to Achraf Hakimi as the right-back makes a move behind the defensive line and into the penalty area.
Understanding of space
We have already discussed above that Sancho is extremely effective when moving into space before receiving the ball and moving it on into dangerous areas.
This ability to move into key areas, however, deserves to be discussed in more detail. Sancho is predominantly right-footed and he plays mainly from the right-hand side, although he is capable of playing on the left.
Crucially Sancho is now rated highly enough by his teammates and coaches at Dortmund that he is allowed to almost have a free role when playing across the front line.
We see an example of this above with the opposition, Slavia Prague, positioned in a deep and compact defensive block.
This makes it important for Dortmund to find spaces in the wide areas to play around the defensive block and get in behind the defensive line.
As the ball is moved laterally in the midfield we see Sancho making a clever run to move behind the opposition full-back and out into the wide area.
This movement means that he moves on the blindside of the defensive player and is unmarked when the ball is played out to him.
This time we see a slightly different situation as Sancho has moved inside to occupy space just outside the Mainz penalty area in the central area.
The ball is moved over a short distance to his foot and the expectation would have been for Sancho to turn and access the penalty area. Instead, Sancho understands that he will attract considerable pressure when taking possession of the ball in this area.
Three Mainz players move to tighten the space and Sancho takes a touch into space out towards his own goal.
This open space that Sancho can use and he spins and plays the ball over the defensive line into space in the penalty area.
One aspect of Sancho’s game that has improved hugely has been his ability to finish chances.
He has always been creative and he has always been a very good dribbler of the ball who relished 1vs1 opportunities against opposition players.
Now, Sancho is equally dangerous when receiving the ball himself around the penalty area and whether he is on the right or the left makes very little difference.
In this example, we have captured a moment with Dortmund attacking in transition.
Sancho was positioned out on the left and received the ball in space before moving quickly to penetrate into the penalty area.
An opposition defender is quickly moving across to close down the ball but again we see Sancho’s ability to pause and let the game move ahead of him.
He uses the momentum of the defender and shifts the ball quickly against the defensive path of the defender. This allows Sancho to move past the last defender before finishing into the bottom corner.
This time the ball moves to the opposite side with Sancho positioned out on the right side. As the ball started to move forward Sancho was initially positioned on the shoulder of the Koln full-back.
As the advanced midfielder took possession, however, Sancho drifted into a pocket of space between the fullback and the central defender.
As Sancho then receives the ball the two defenders are left scrambling to move to engage the ball and stop him from having a clear route to goal. He has the balance to quickly shift his weight from side to side while maintaining full possession of the ball.
Sancho does this here as he shapes to cut inside the central defender before dragging the ball back outside and finishing hard and high into the roof off the net.
It is part of Borussia Dortmund’s business model to sign young players and then allow them to feature in the first-team to develop before then selling them for a profit.
This has very much been the plan with Sancho from the start of his time in Germany and that plan seems to be coming to fruition very soon with a move to a top tier club likely to come at the end of this season, whenever that will be. Dortmund have already signed their next superstar with the January deal for Erling Braut Haaland from Red Bull Salzburg and they are in the market for another young English superstar in Jude Bellingham.
Sancho is ready for the next challenge and the next stage of his career. Whichever club is lucky enough to secure the 20-year-old’s signature will be getting a difference maker with the potential to dominate at the top level for the next decade.