The success of Jadon Sancho, who is now living up to his billing as one of the hottest young prospects in world football after a rocky start to life back in England, has been one of Manchester United’s few bright spots this season.
Sancho had a difficult time in his first few months at Old Trafford due to two issues. For starters, he wasn’t considered an overseas import due to his nationality, despite the fact that he needed time to adjust to the Premier League after his time in Germany. Second, Sancho was not regarded like many other 21-year-olds due of his great record thus far, with expectations placed on him to hit the ground running at a club as tumultuous as United.
It’s also evident that Sancho is a player who feeds on self-assurance, and he didn’t appear to have Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s complete support. The Norwegian had identified the winger as a long-term objective but didn’t seem to know how to use him effectively, which contributed to his slow start.
In contrast, the English forward is now flourishing under the tutelage of Ralf Rangnick, another long-time admirer who attempted to sign him for RB Leipzig, and has been one of the finest players in the Premier League this calendar year since receiving consistent backing.
Sancho’s exclusion from the England squad for the current international break was scandalous, however a two-week break could be beneficial to United if they are to salvage a poor season with Champions League qualification.
The former Dortmund man will not only be critical to United’s chances for the remainder of the season, but the club also thinks he will be a key member of the squad for the next decade and the ultimate heir to Cristiano Ronaldo’s legendary No.7 shirt when he leaves.
Any new manager will be entrusted with bringing the best out of Sancho and assisting him in reaching new heights, though the difficulty will be in deciding which position to play the winger in.
When Sancho arrived at United last summer, he was regarded as a long-term solution to the club’s right-wing problems, and while he might very well be a success there in the future, it’s evident he prefers the left wing, where he can cut inside onto his better right foot and open up favourable angles.
This season, he has made 24 of his 33 club appearances on the left side of the field in an inverted role. Another seven came while he was playing as a classic right winger, with two more coming in a two-pronged attack.
Three of his five United goals have come in games where he has cut inside from the left flank, while all of his assists have come in games when he has cut inside from the same flank.
Sancho’s strong success on the left makes sense for a new manager to keep him there next season, but it raises the age-old question of who should play the right position as a result. The ideal symmetry would come from having another inverted option on the opposite flank who could match Sancho’s threat by cutting in on their left, but following Mason Greenwood’s ban, there are no clear candidates at the club.
Juan Mata is one option, but at 33, he is limited in what he can provide from the position, while Amad has failed to impress since joining Rangers on loan in January. Facundo Pellistri has performed admirably for Uruguay at the international level, although he has only played 10 minutes for Alaves this calendar year.
With so many alternatives on the left wing, it makes sense for United to consider using someone who is already at the club on the right wing, but this is far easier said than done. Marcus Rashford does not want to play there, Anthony Elanga prefers an inverted role, and Jesse Lingard is set to leave on a free transfer at the end of the season.
Despite having spent £120 million on three right wingers in less than two years, it seems inevitable that United’s next manager will be tasked with trying to get Sancho to perform on the right in pre-season. However, given his preference to play on the left, signing a new right winger could become a pressing issue again.