Manchester United knew something had to change in their midweek match against Brentford; the only surprise was that there was only one.
Wout Weghorst’s time in a United shirt came to an end against Newcastle, and despite his best efforts, it is evident that he lacks the core quality required to produce on a consistent basis for a club of such stature.
Erik ten Hag had few other choices to turn to, and so looked to Jadon Sancho to liven up his attack as part of a dynamic front three that concentrated on agility and movement.
Asked why he selected Sancho against Brentford, Ten Hag explained: “Creativity. Jadon has made good progress since his return. You know he can make the final pass, he can make one-on-one plays, he can move in behind and score a goal, so that’s why.”
Sancho was noticeably better than his previous effort against Newcastle, but that doesn’t say much given how low the bar was set at St. James’ Park.
Sancho’s problem is that he still doesn’t fit into current United attacking line, and despite some flashes of stardom, he is frequently a difficult fit in the line-up.
Even while it seemed like the ideal game for the 23-year-old to thrive in, because he is better equipped to play against a low block that invites him to break down a tenacious defensive line, he still underwhelmed.
There were the expected thrills, such as when he nutmegged a Brentford player on the halfway line in the first half, but his response was to throw a sideways pass to the opposite flank rather than rushing forward himself.
Sancho’s playing appeared to lack purpose once more, and despite his obvious technical talent, he rarely posed a threat and diminished as the game continued.
The former Borussia Dortmund winger had 54 touches against Brentford, one fewer than Luke Shaw, who was taken off with an injury late in the first half.
Sancho was brought in to help solve United’s right-wing problem, but he has only exacerbated it, and his finest football has come from the left. The issue is that Marcus Rashford prefers the same role and will only get more playing time there if a new striker is signed this summer, while youngster Alejandro Garnacho also competes.
On the left side, the Argentine teenager has been a pleasant contrast to Sancho, and he brings the direct danger that was sorely lacking on Wednesday night.
His chances of playing on the right are also hampered by the club’s large investment in Antony, while Bruno Fernandes has also been preferred there at times this season. When you factor in the prospect of Amad getting a shot when he returns from loan this summer, it becomes even more difficult to envisage Sancho having a long-term position.
Sancho has been argued that he would be more suited to a No.10 role in current United team, and there is clearly evidence to support that claim. However, that also appears to be unfeasible, given that it would entail repurposing Bruno Fernandes, an unnecessary cost to make only to bet on the potential of him succeeding.
This all adds to Sancho’s enormous enigma, considering that there appears to be no easy answer for a player who has been more of a problem than a performer since joining the club.
His cause obviously isn’t helped by the fact that the manager who signed him is already long gone, and Ten Hag has no allegiance to a £73 million signing who has yet to truly put in one complete performance under him.
Ten Hag is said to be growing ‘impatient’ with Sancho, and his most recent appearance didn’t do much to buy him any more time.
They are no closer to resolving the problem.