People who don’t follow the Bundesliga regularly may be hearing about Jadon Sancho’s links to Manchester United and assume that he’s performing well for Dortmund, a good example of a young player having the confidence to prove his talent outside of England.
This is somewhat inaccurate: he’s not performing well. Sancho’s numbers in 2019/20 are such that we should be seriously discussing him among the very best footballers in the world right now. He’s in the Kylian Mbappe conversation as it stands.
Let’s have a deeper look.
As Sancho is as much a scorer as he is a provider at Borussia Dortmund, let’s look at Goal Contributions per 90 minutes played - this is simply a combination of goals and assists, taken P90 to allow for a fairer comparison between players. Sancho’s 1.44 contributions P90 is second in Europe only to Lionel Messi, who really should be removed from all statistical comparisons because he is such an outlier.
The fact that Sancho is hanging in such illustrious company and ranking ahead of the likes of Mbappe (1.37) and Neymar (1.29) is the level we are talking about here - Ballon d’Or quality for a kid who has just turned 20. But it gets even better; if we remove penalties from the equation, Sancho’s Non-Pen Goal Contributions P90 of 1.44 is now the best in Europe for 2019/20.
FootballCritic’s unique algorithm ranks 50,000 players based on their average match rating, standard of competition and additional performance bonuses. Only nine of those 50,000 have a perfect score of 99 - Sancho is one of them.
A perennial wide threat, Sancho’s 3.0 completed dribbles P90 is sixth best in the Bundesliga (min 1,000 minutes) while his 0.7 Big Chances Created P90 is fourth best. Sancho has also been involved in 45.5% of Dortmund’s 68 Bundesliga goals. It’s been a simply sensational season.
And Sancho clearly has all the attributes you would want in a modern wide forward. He has pace, directness, close control, but crucially a calm head when in advanced positions, as represented by his enviable assist total and his 2.2 Key Passes P90.
Not to put a dampener on the enthusiasm for this generational talent, but some of his numbers make his returns appear a little unsustainable.
Firstly, Sancho’s shot count is generally far lower than the elite players that surround him. Yes, he’s not an outright centre forward, and yes, it’s known that players are beginning to understand Expected Goals and how shooting from a better position is likely to provide better returns. But the scale of shooting among the highest echelons remains prolific, and this is highlighted in the most shots P90 across the top five leagues.
Five of the best players in the world hit a lot of shots. Sancho, on the other hand, ranks in 107th, with just 2.2 shots P90. Hitting so few shots but scoring regularly also gives him a Non-Pen Goal Conversion Rate of 31.7% - only Mauro Icardi is better, while his shot accuracy of 54.5% is seventh highest.
What does this tell us? Well, it tells us that Sancho is unerringly accurate when he gets in good positions, and not only does he hit the target more often than not, he scores more than most as well. These are also leading statistics, but the correlation doesn’t tend to add up to long-term sustainability. Hitting as few shots as Sancho does and scoring like he does is a rare thing indeed.
This is even more noticeable when drilling down into his Expected Goals (xG). His xG figure is 8.2, meaning his 14 goals are 5.8 ahead of where we would expect him to be. We can say the same about Expected Assists (xA) of 8.7, against his 15 assists, which places him a full 6.3 assists ahead of where he ‘should’ be.
There are a few caveats to Expected Goals and Assists and their application. For example, larger sample sizes are key to establishing a narrative within the data and three-quarters of a season isn’t quite big enough to make sweeping statements about players. Furthermore, no expected goal model is quite there yet, where it can wholly be relied upon.
But to combine a low volume of shots (remember, he has scored 14 Bundesliga goals from just 24 efforts on target), with an over-performance of xG to this extent would tend to suggest that Sancho’s total can’t be sustained. Furthermore, when it comes to his assists, his total of 15 puts him behind only Kevin De Bruyne (having an unbelievable campaign) and Thomas Muller in the top five leagues. But his xA P90 is just 0.43, well below De Bruyne’s 0.61 and Muller’s 0.70. On this list he moves down to tenth - still an extremely impressive total, but one that doesn’t correlate with maintaining this level of return. Dortmund, an attacking team and one with Erling Haaland among others featuring in an offensive style, are pretty good at putting away his passes.
Finally, taking a brief look at the Champions League - a much smaller sample size, but a (perceived) higher quality - we see his NP Goal Contribution P90 drop to 0.56, with Dortmund now eliminated from the competition (if it indeed ever ends).
But this isn’t a warning, rather a celebration. It’s a thrill to see any player perform to this standard.
Though United’s transfer policy in recent years has been questionable, under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer it has actually shown a clear plan, strengthening in key positions with talent that was better than those there (Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Harry Maguire, Bruno Fernandes). Sancho is the type of generational arrival that Sir Alex Ferguson would have made it his business to acquire, and United should do anything possible to get him, because there is so much more to come.
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