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The reason why Jadon Sancho is struggling at Manchester United

by Red Billy
Jadon Sancho

Jadon Sancho’s poor start to his Manchester United career could be seen as a necessary settling-in period, but there are worrying signs that the player is not being used in a way that plays to his strengths.

Some have argued that the poor start is partly due to the fact that Sancho is essentially a right winger who has been playing for United on the left due to the absence of regular left winger, Marcus Rashford. But this is not strictly true.

Sancho played almost as regularly on the left wing for previous club Borussia Dortmund as he did on the right, with stats of 20 goals and 23 assists from 50 games in that position. This compares with 24 goals and 36 assists in his 70 on the right.

But what is different about Sancho’s deployment at United is in the fluidity of the role assigned to him. At Dortmund, Sancho was allowed to roam across the front line. At United, he stays on the left wing, presumably under instruction.

Compare these heatmaps of Sancho’s outings against Leicester and Everton:


To these two taken at random from Bundesliga games last season:


The heatmaps clearly show that the freedom of movement that Sancho was afforded at Dortmund was much greater. That freedom allows a player of Sancho’s type to find space. It makes him extremely hard to mark and it allows him to make a wider variety of runs and crosses.

It is unclear why Solskjaer instructs his players to maintain rigid positioning. Mason Greenwood is two-footed and would also be very capable of interchanging. Ronaldo is comfortable across the front line, as is Marcus Rashford. So whoever Sancho is playing with, the advantages to fluidity of movement are there for all.

Of course, Dortmund’s higher tempo also suits Sancho’s game, but this is another area where the choice in tactics at United is hard to understand. United’s forward players are arguably all better suited at playing a higher tempo game, so why is that not the team instruction?

As the season progresses and a better understanding is developed between the new signings and the rest of the team, it is possible that Solskjaer will loosen the shackles and allow his forwards freedom to roam.

It could be, though, that this is a Catch-22; Sancho will not excel until he is allowed to roam but he will not be allowed to roam until he starts to excel.

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