It's official. Manchester United have completed the signing of winger Jadon Sancho on a five-year deal.
The 21-year-old England international – a former Manchester City youth team player – has joined from Borussia Dortmund in a £73million deal.
So, just how good is Sancho? Is he really the last piece in United's jigsaw? And what does his move mean for Marcus Rashford?
Sancho, United’s second signing of the summer after back-up goalkeeper Tom Heaton arrived on a two-year contract earlier this month, is likely to be an incredible extra string to United’s attacking bow.
Sancho is believed to have been brought in to operate as the club’s first-choice right-winger, but for Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga, he has historically been utilised on both flanks and even through the middle.
The 21-year-old scored three goals in six matches playing as a left-sided attacker last season, compared to his output of six goals from 14 matches on the right. The goals per 95 average hardly changes. He’ll have no problem filling in on the left if required.
It’s as a creator where Sancho truly shines. Last term he led the Bundesliga in progressive passes per 95 (6.46), progressive carries per 95 (10.4), passes into the penalty area per 95 (3.58), and carries into the penalty area per 95 (2.23).
Quickly transitioning the ball forward against a team with a low block is where United have struggled in recent years. United forward Rashford’s electrifying pace has terrorised defenders, but once they drop deep and park the bus, his primary weapon is eliminated.
Sancho seems like the ideal signing to combat this problem, becoming the chief creator on the right and encouraging his counterpart to drift in centrally from the left to become an additional centre-forward when United have possession against a deep-lying opponent.
The lack of a reliable right-sided creator has hindered United’s progress, with the vast majority of their attacks limited to the left.
In time, Sancho and left-winger Rashford could create a deadly duo on both flanks with the former Dortmund star the better creator and the United trainee the superior finisher.
For now though Sancho may have to plug a hole on United’s dominant left. After nursing a shoulder injury throughout the Euros, Rashford will undergo surgery, likely ruling him out until October.
The Red Devils’ opening league fixtures against Leeds, Southampton, Wolves, Newcastle, Aston Villa and Everton suggest Sancho will have to be at his creative best against teams who may be happy to sit back and defend a point.
And if sides like Leeds and Everton were to push forward, 50 goals in 137 appearances for Dortmund suggest Sancho is able to jump from assister to goalscorer once the space opens up in behind.
Like most players who wrestled their way to Premier League stardom status at an early age, judgement on Rashford’s ability has almost gone full circle, with the ‘in’ thing now to point out the forward’s on-pitch flaws in spite of his off-pitch heroics.
The 23-year-old looked jaded by the end of United’s season, carrying his shoulder injury while barely getting any rest. He played 60 matches from August 2020 until the Euros. At the Championships though he hardly had a kick. Exhausted, he managed just 113 minutes across seven games.
Yet, for an injured Rashford to have constantly been selected by United, and to have been encouraged to delay his surgery by England to play at the Euros, shows just how highly his coaches regard him.
Over the past two years Rashford has scored 43 goals and crafted 27 assists. Last term he outperformed both his expected goals total (11 league goals to an xG of 8.87) and his expected assists (nine to 3.8 xA). The United trainee is, at least according to Infogol, incredibly clinical.
On the counter, Rashford is at his most potent. The 12 goals he has scored against Chelsea, Manchester City, Leicester, Tottenham and Liverpool over the past two years show just how suited he is to teams that come at United.
In those big games, no one in a red shirt comes close to Rashford’s goal tally. It’s also a big reason why Solskjaer continued to pick his main man during the business end of last season, despite the well-reported injuries and visible exhaustion.
For Manchester United, Rashford plays out on the left wing in a 4-3-2-1 formation, a line-up which allows the Red Devils the ability to play Bruno Fernandes in his optimal number 10 role.
Although, labelling Rashford as a left-winger is slightly invalid. The England international is most often deployed as a left-sided second-striker, with Luke Shaw United’s dedicated touchline-hugger as a way to generate width.
It means Rashford is more central, often playing off the shoulder of the right centre-half rather than the right full-back when United break. He’s closer to the goal and between the posts when he receives the final through ball to go one-on-one.
Rather than pit Sancho against Rashford, the media narrative should instead be, 'just how scary can Manchester United be with these two both on the pitch'.
Their contrasting style could make the perfect combination.