Jadon Sancho has finally turned up at Manchester United – and just in time

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Jadon Sancho.
Jadon Sancho.

It has taken four months, 15 appearances and a change of manager but Jadon Sancho has arrived at Manchester United.

It had been a mildly concerning start for the winger, signed for north of £70 million in July.

He is far from alone in under-performing, but given United’s recent track record as the place where talent goes to die (Alexis Sánchez, Ángel Di María, Aaron Wan-Bissaka – too soon?) fears were stirring about a similar fate for Sancho.

More than most, he has suffered from the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo and his immediate occupation of one of the attacking spots, in a team over-burdened with talent at the top of the pitch.

The assumption was that Sancho would be one of the main men this season. Instead he has only started four of a possible 12 games in the Premier League, and only played for the full 90 minutes once – away at Watford on Saturday. Not the sort of game to hang a career on.

But there was another 90 minutes on Tuesday night in Villarreal which painted a far happier picture. It included his first Manchester United goal, but there was plenty of other evidence of what a fully firing Sancho can bring to his team.

Movement

Sancho began the match playing his part in United’s newly sane defensive unit, pressuring opponents usefully.

As the game settled he stationed himself on the right-hand touchline, frequently linking with Donny van de Beek then driving towards the centre of the pitch. In the 23rd minute he picked up the ball just inside his half on the touchline:

Jadon Sancho vs Villarreal - BT SPORT
Jadon Sancho vs Villarreal - BT SPORT

Invited to bring it forward he did so, and came inside to engage Villarreal’s midfield line:

Jadon Sancho vs Villarreal - BT SPORT
Jadon Sancho vs Villarreal - BT SPORT

He laid it off to Anthony Martial before continuing his run...

Jadon Sancho vs Villarreal - BT SPORT
Jadon Sancho vs Villarreal - BT SPORT

Martial found Ronaldo. He attempted to play in Van de Beek overlapping on the right:

Jadon Sancho vs Villarreal - BT SPORT
Jadon Sancho vs Villarreal - BT SPORT


The pass was overhit (see Ronaldo helpfully pointing where Van de Beek should have been, in the mind of Ronaldo – sorry sir, I won’t do it again sir) but Sancho’s positioning is also instructive.

Stood furthest forward on the edge of the 'D' he would be the prime candidate to meet a Van de Beek cross, and his starting position wide on the right means he would have been difficult to track, likely asking difficult questions to the Villarreal defence about assignments and responsibilities.

Dribbling

Once again Sancho picks the ball up so close to the touchline he is in danger of besmirching his pristine boots with white paint:

Jadon Sancho vs Villarreal - BT SPORT
Jadon Sancho vs Villarreal - BT SPORT

After a one-two with Van de Beek, Sancho is off charging diagonally through the middle of the pitch:

Jadon Sancho vs Villarreal - BT SPORT
Jadon Sancho vs Villarreal - BT SPORT

From the centre circle he plays a tasty through ball:

Jadon Sancho vs Villarreal - BT SPORT
Jadon Sancho vs Villarreal - BT SPORT

...which gives Martial a chance to run at the right-back:

Jadon Sancho vs Villarreal - BT SPORT
Jadon Sancho vs Villarreal - BT SPORT


Aggression

We are back in Sancholand again in the 71st minute, wide on the right:

Jadon Sancho vs Villarreal - BT SPORT
Jadon Sancho vs Villarreal - BT SPORT

This time he sizes up what’s in front of him and rather than take the easy option of a pass to Wan-Bissaka, who is sprinting forward to his left, or Scott McTominay behind him Sancho drives inside himself, then finds Bruno Fernandes:

Jadon Sancho vs Villarreal - BT SPORT
Jadon Sancho vs Villarreal - BT SPORT

Continuing his run at speed, Fernandes splits a panicking defence:

Jadon Sancho vs Villarreal - BT SPORT
Jadon Sancho vs Villarreal - BT SPORT

Sancho wrongfoots Villarreal’s No 4, Pau Torres…

Jadon Sancho vs Villarreal - BT SPORT
Jadon Sancho vs Villarreal - BT SPORT

...and gets away his shot, well saved by the leg of Gerónimo Rulli:

Jadon Sancho vs Villarreal - BT SPORT
Jadon Sancho vs Villarreal - BT SPORT

At moments like this he looks incredibly difficult to defend against.

A goal

Sancho took two shots in this game, both were on target and the second shored up the win for his team.

It began with an urgent run from deep in the 90th minute, a sign his fitness is fully restored. This gave united a three on three with Marcus Rashford able to pick between Fernandes and Sancho:

Jadon Sancho vs Villarreal - BT SPORT
Jadon Sancho vs Villarreal - BT SPORT

Fernandes was his choice, but he moved it right swiftly. Villareal’s Alberto Moreno did his hapless Alberto Moreno thing:

Jadon Sancho vs Villarreal - BT SPORT
Jadon Sancho vs Villarreal - BT SPORT

...and Sancho had time and space to halt his run, assess the situation and control the ball...

Jadon Sancho vs Villarreal - BT SPORT
Jadon Sancho vs Villarreal - BT SPORT

...before a finish of ruthless accuracy off the underside of the bar:

Jadon Sancho vs Villarreal - BT SPORT
Jadon Sancho vs Villarreal - BT SPORT

This capped a pleasing night’s work but it was by no means a perfect game. There was a loss of possession in a promising area out wide in the first half, an attempted raking crossfield ball which went as far as the thigh of the nearest Villarreal player and the relationship with Van de Beek dried up a little in second half, Dani Parejo frequently getting in their way.

But there was enough here to show what Sancho can bring to this side. He is not a traditional winger in the slightly brainless old-fashioned sense – head down, beat man, deliver cross.

Instead he acts as a sort of of line breaker extraordinaire from wide areas, whose unpredictability makes him both a useful out-ball in transition and an asset in turning neutral situations into positive ones.

These are the sorts of qualities Bundesliga-watchers were telling us about. United and England fans will be cheered that they were finally on show for his new side.

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