Manchester United have yet to finish their 2019/20 season, as they remain in the Europa League, but they are already starting to make moves in the transfer market. Sky Sports report that they are close to agreeing personal terms with long-term target Jadon Sancho. The report goes on to say that Borussia Dortmund haven’t relaxed their initial asking price of £108 million. However, there could be more flexibility in the payment schedule and the mood music is beginning to point to the Englishman moving to Old Trafford.
Towards the end of the Premier League season, it was suggested that Manchester United should move on from their pursuit of Sancho, due to the emergence of Mason Greenwood. The teenager was a sensation during his first senior season with 17 goals across all competitions to date. He has played himself into Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s plans, but the current manager will realise the importance of strength in depth. It will also be hoped that added competition will push the 18-year-old on further and the club will focus on this positive angle.
The lack of faith in those beneath the starting eleven was evident following the lockdown, as the manager continued to start with the same eleven in nearly every fixture.
Since taking over as manager, Solskjaer has been keen to return the club to the former glories under Sir Alex Ferguson. During that successful period, the club always built from a position of strength. Since the debut of Bruno Fernandes, no team have taken more Premier League points than Manchester United with 32 from 14 matches. They have yet to taste defeat in the league with the Portuguese international on the pitch. It would have been easy for the club to stick with the current team and point to that form, but they are pushing on to make a statement signing. That bodes well for the continued improvement in the coming years.
In terms of Sancho, it is clear to see why Manchester United want to sign him. He is a natural winger, who will provide more creativity to the forward line. Greenwood and Marcus Rashford are excellent options on the wings, but they are seen as more direct goal threats, rather than creators themselves.
According to Understat, Rashford averages 0.66 expected goals (xG) and 0.18 expected assists (xA) per ninety minutes. Meanwhile, Greenwood averages 0.23 xG and 0.10 xA per ninety minutes. Despite the latter’s eye-catching form, there is still a lot for the teenager to learn, especially when it comes to the mental side of the game. He has emerged as an excellent talent, but his underlying numbers suggest a hot streak, with his ten goals coming from a total xG of 3.39.
Some believe that Greenwood is a devastating finisher with either foot and he has the ability to overperform his xG, but a larger sample size is required to support this. If he maintained this rate, he would emerge as one of the best finishers in the history of the game, therefore some downturn towards to the mean would be expected. Based on these numbers, it would be a gamble for the club to rely on the teenager as a regular starter. It would also put unneeded pressure on him. A squad role with starting opportunities could be best for his development.
Like Greenwood, Sancho has outperformed his expected numbers, but he has done this over two seasons, with a continued improvement across every metric. In the recent Bundesliga season, he has averaged 0.42 xG and 0.45 xA per ninety minutes. Across the campaign, this equates to 10.75 xG and 11.47 xA. The England international finished with 17 goals and 16 assists, which is a remarkable contribution in any division. In the Premier League, no player reached 15 in both goals and assists in the recent season. Only three players (Kevin de Bruyne, Mohamed Salah and Son Heung-Min) reached ten in both goals and assists.
Last season, he averaged 2.05 shots and 2.72 key passes per ninety minutes in the German league. This was an improvement from 1.46 shots and 2.3 key passes per ninety minutes in the previous season.
Even if there was some overachievement from Sancho compared to his expected numbers, he is a player that should reach ten goals and ten assists on a consistent basis. He has done this in both of his full Bundesliga seasons. At the age of 20, there should be significant improvement in the coming years. There is every chance that he becomes one of the best players in the world and that is why Manchester United are right to target him.
One of the weaknesses of Manchester United in 2020 has been the lack of creativity from wide positions. Rashford and Greenwood have been bigger direct goal threats. Meanwhile, Luke Shaw and Aaron Wan-Bissaka don’t possess the attacking qualities of other full-backs operating in the Premier League. This has increased the pressure on Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba to create from central areas. Further to this, there has been a reliance on attackers to produce moments of individual quality to find the back of the net. Since the restart, United overachieved their xG by 4.88.
If they manage to complete this signing, it will add creativity to the front-line and Sancho has the potential to become even better than he is already. This would be a statement transfer and signal the club’s intent to challenge for major honours. Despite Greenwood’s emergence, this deal remains a no-brainer for Solskjaer and the club.