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Do in-form Manchester United really need Jadon Sancho?

Do in-form Manchester United really need Jadon Sancho?
© Reuters
Sports Mole takes an in-depth look at whether Manchester United need Jadon Sancho amid a resurgence in attacking form from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side.

The summer transfer window will have a more surreal feel this year than we've ever experienced as football fans, thanks to COVID-19.

But no matter when, or for how long, it eventually takes place, Jadon Sancho will be one of its most talked about and coveted figures.

The enchanting 20-year-old has been nothing short of sensational since leaving Manchester City for Borussia Dortmund in 2017, opting to carve out a career for himself in a city famed for its industrial heritage rather than remain cocooned in comfortable confines.

In the ensuing three years he's worked extremely hard to turn himself into one of the most coveted commodities in world football.

The winger, who began his career with Watford, has bagged 34 goals and 43 assists in 99 Dortmund appearances. His breathtaking 20 goals and 20 assists in 44 appearances during a pandemic-interrupted third season has been his best yet, and will likely be his last.

Borussia Dortmund winger Jadon Sancho pictured on June 6, 2020© Reuters

He is being linked with a move away from Dortmund because of his incredible talent, excellent form and growing reputation as one of Europe's leading young lights, but also because Dortmund have a reputation of profiting financially from their young stars, as well as an at times fractious relationship with boss Lucien Favre – Sancho has occasionally been benched or unused by his manager, who has also spoken openly about the possibility of the Camberwell-born star leaving.

It was clear last summer and during the first half of this season that United needed a player of Sancho's ilk – a promising and potent young forward player who can flit across the front line but mainly operates from the right flank.

This was exacerbated and much debated when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer decided to jettison Alexis Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku from Old Trafford. Both found a new home at Inter Milan, albeit Sanchez moved on loan.

There is little desire to recall him and he has no future at the club. Lukaku, especially, has thrived in Italy and whatever United fans think of both players' form and attitudes, they own fierce reputations.

Lukaku has enhanced his status as a prolific plunderer of goals and despite a turbulent two years at Old Trafford, he scored a weighty 42 goals in 96 appearances in red - including a prolific 2017-18 campaign in which he netted 27 times in 51 games.

Romelu Lukaku celebrates scoring for Inter Milan on August 26, 2019© Reuters

Whether Solskjaer's reasons were explainable or erratic, United were saying farewell to a player who knew where the back of the net was, unlike those left behind attempting to fill his boots.

It seemed a gigantic gamble at the time for the under-fire Norwegian but it's turning out to be a big risk that is nevertheless yielding big rewards, with the career campaigns that Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford are enjoying.

They're both in the midst of their best goalscoring seasons in a United shirt, each surpassing 20 goals with their strikes in the 5-2 win against Bournemouth on Saturday.

Martial's previous best was 17 in his debut campaign five years ago, while Rashford totalled 13 in each of his previous two seasons. The last time two United players achieved this was Dimitar Berbatov and Javier Hernandez who scored 21 and 20 respectively in 2010-2011.

Added joy to the duo's discovery of deadly form has been the salient emergence of Mason Greenwood, who some describe as a generational talent. And it's hard to argue.

Manchester United striker Mason Greenwood celebrates scoring against Bournemouth on July 4, 2020© Reuters

He is comfortable on either foot, has lightning footwork, lines up his shots early, dispatches them with incredible power and accuracy, often bamboozling defenders or striking the ball before they have time to set their feet.

Solskjaer has called him one of the most natural finishers he's ever worked with – high praise from someone who had similar lethal traits.

He's 18, isn't 19 until October, but already seems acclimatised to first-team life. He's not far behind Martial and Rashford in terms of goals and assists (15 goals in all competitions and five assists compared to Rashford's eight and Martial's six), while only Michael Owen (twice), Wayne Rooney and Robbie Fowler have scored more Premier League goals in a season at 18 or under.

And, since returning from lockdown, it's evident he's beefed up too – shooting up 3kg since March – which is crucial for any young player hoping to thrive and develop in the physical and fast-paced Premier League.

Whereas United fans might be salivating at the prospect of Sancho arriving this summer, some will also view this possibility as bittersweet, a betrayal to a player fast emerging as the next homegrown star.

Borussia Dortmund winger Jadon Sancho celebrates scoring against Paderborn on May 31, 2020© Reuters

Is his signing as essential as it was six months ago? Are there fears his arrival would tether the rise of the new boy wonder of Old Trafford?

Whatever fans and critics believe and hope for Greenwood, Solskjaer has to weigh that against several requirements as manager. Namely, the constant need for improvement.

While they are far better this year and on a stunning run of form – 16 games unbeaten, 12 wins, 43 goals scored, just six conceded and 11 clean sheets – there remains a pressing need to close the gap to both Manchester City and Liverpool, who remain way ahead; in terms of points, quality and overall squad strength.

Despite United's resurgence there remain concerns about the defence – even though it is a unit solidified hugely by the arrival of Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka – while the squad's depth also poses a conundrum.

Although he will be buoyed by what he is seeing from his strikeforce in the last few months – one that Portuguese phenom Bruno Fernandes seems to be the long-lost key required to unlock its potential, plus the early re-emergence of a rejuvenated and unburdened Paul Pogba – even the best managers know that you should always be looking to add to your arsenal, something predecessor and mentor Sir Alex Ferguson constantly preached.

Manchester United pair Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes bump fists on June 19, 2020© Reuters

However impressed Solskjaer will have been by his team in 2020 he and they must still strive for improvement. Even though the first-choice 11 have been in blistering form - especially since returning from lockdown – with Fernandes, Pogba, Martial, Rashford and Greenwood tearing teams to shreds, outside the first 11 there are glaring deficiencies and holes to fill.

The likes of Jesse Lingard and Andreas Pereira may not remain at Old Trafford beyond this season; they can have little complaint as Solskjaer has given them plenty of
opportunities, which they have failed to grasp.

Daniel James, after impressing hugely early on in the season, has burned out somewhat since the turn of the year. This is more an indication of sustained exposure to the first team and reliance on him by the manager – let's not forget this is a 21-year-old still developing.

He'd barely recorded a first full season at Championship Swansea City last term before stepping up to the Premier League.

Fans will also point to there being a need for competition at left-back – despite the refreshing emergence of the pugnacious and versatile Brandon Williams – at centre-back, and possibly in attack too.

Manchester United's Odion Ighalo celebrates scoring their first goal on March 12, 2020© Reuters

Perhaps a more traditional striker is required, a bonafide goal-getter in the mould of Lukaku, even though the unfashionable Odion Ighalo has impressed since arriving on loan in January from China.

Fans are right to be excited about the young age and potency of this emerging attacking force, but there should be no thoughts of contentment. It is far better to have healthy competition than a dearth of attacking and creative options, which has long been an Achilles heel for post-Ferguson United.

Contract talks will surely be long and arduous while a fee is likely to be high and a complicated and drawn-out saga. But Sancho will surely be worth it.

If he does swap yellow for red he is another firebrand talent Solskjaer can add to his increasingly explosive forward line.

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Manchester United striker Mason Greenwood celebrates scoring against Bournemouth on July 4, 2020
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Tables
TeamPWDLFAGDPTS
CLiverpool38323385335299
2Manchester CityMan City392739106357184
3Manchester UnitedMan Utd381812866363066
4Chelsea392061369571266
5Leicester CityLeicester381881267412662
6Tottenham HotspurSpurs3816111161471459
7Wolverhampton WanderersWolves381514951401159
8Sheffield UnitedSheff Utd391512124239357
9Arsenal381414105648856
10Burnley38159144350-754
11Southampton38157165160-952
12Everton381310154456-1249
13Newcastle UnitedNewcastle381111163858-2044
14Crystal Palace381110173150-1943
15Brighton & Hove AlbionBrighton38914153954-1541
16West Ham UnitedWest Ham38109194962-1339
17Aston Villa3898214167-2635
RBournemouth3897224065-2534
RWatford39810213668-3234
RNorwich CityNorwich3856272675-4921

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