When Jadon Sancho decided to leave Manchester City for Borussia Dortmund, he was 17 years old. He was confident in his abilities and knew a move away from the EPL was the best option for him. Two years and a half later, we can say he was right. He has established himself as one of the best prospects in the world, having one goal contribution every 93 minutes since his start at Borussia Dortmund. This season has shown Sancho being regarded as one of the best players in the world.
In this scout report/tactical analysis, we will break down Jadon Sancho’s style of play and why his skill set is already complete at such a young age. In this analysis, we will also see how he fits into Lucien Favre’s tactics at Dortmund.
His end product
Before getting into the tactical analysis side of things about Sancho, we will have a look at his statistics this season. He has 13.34 expected goal contributions and 29 goal contributions in the league this season. Very impressive for his age. Below, we can see Europe’s best forwards in terms of the end product. Sancho is third in terms of goal contributions in Europe.
However, you can see that he is overperforming his expected goal contributions by 218%. This isn’t sustainable through his entire career. Indeed, since xG is calculated, Messi is the only player who has constantly overperformed his xG, by 150%. Sancho is way higher than this, hence why its likely that his end product will drop a bit in the near future.
Nonetheless, the Englishman is an astonishing finisher and he is likely to overperform his xG at a very good rate for the foreseeable future. Indeed, he is the 5th best finisher in Europe this season, with a 31% goal conversion rate. As you can see below, the 20-year-old scored on both occasions for a total amount of 0.5 xG. He is able to finish both on the far or near post. He has a wide range of finishing techniques.
Sancho’s playmaking abilities
Although having a good end product is a great start, it isn’t enough to be considered as one of the best forwards in Europe. Sancho though is also very creative.
Indeed, below is a scatter plot comparing Europe’s best creative U23 players. This takes into account xA and smart passes. Smart pass is a metric taking into account passes who cut lines between two or three opposition players. As you can see, Sancho is the most creative U23 player in Europe according to these advanced metrics.
When you watch Sancho, you can easily see how creative he is. He is able to find his teammates inside or on the edge of the box, he can also find his teammates in a pocket of spaces against more compact sides. As highlighted below, he is on the edge of Inter’s box. He sees Brandt making a run beyond Inter’s defensive line and is able to make the pass in the right timing. Very uncommon for someone of his age.
Whilst he is very creative, Sancho is efficient in his passing. He averages 56 passes a game with 84.59% completion. He is one of the most efficient passers amongst wingers in Europe. This is mostly due to Sancho having a wide range of passes in his locker.
He can either be a direct passer of the ball for a runner in behind or combine in tight spaces in order to break his opponent’s shape. The Englishman is the kind of player who can change a game thanks to a pass. He will see what others can’t but he is also able to execute what he sees on a football pitch. When you combine both abilities, you have a dangerous weapon against any defence.
Sancho also has outstanding spatial awareness. He is always aware of where his teammates are on the pitch. Below, you can see Sancho looking behind his back before the start of the counter to see where he has to move to give as much space as possible to his left-back, in order to let Dortmund progress the play and sustain pressure in their opponent’s half.
All in all, Sancho is creative in multiple ways. He can either drive from deep to make a final pass or send a through ball to find his teammates in behind. This is a very rare trait for a winger and that makes Sancho one of Europe’s best playmakers.
Breaks his opponent’s defensive shape
Sancho is able to stretch his opponent’s defensive line thanks to his dribbling and movement.
He is both a direct and skilful dribbler. Whilst exceeding in tight spaces as already mentioned, Sancho can also be very dynamic in his dribbling, proved by his 3.2 progressive runs per 90. He is a bit more wasteful this season, with a success rate down from 61% to 52% in the league. When the 20-year-old is direct, it allows him to carry the ball from deep in order to stretch his opponent’s defensive line and create a gap with their midfield. His opponents will have to track back if they don’t want to be dribbled past when Sancho carries the ball. When they track back, passing lanes open up for Sancho’s teammates to run into which would then help them have easy chances at goal.
His movement is very good as well. As seen below, Sancho knows how to time his runs in order to receive the ball. He always spots the space to make his run into and has an adequate movement to face the goal once he has received the ball.
His best position
Where is Sancho’s best position? This debate can be endless so I will let you be the judge of it. Sancho has played as a left-winger at the academy level. So, this doesn’t come as a surprise that Sancho has been more frightening on this side of the pitch at Dortmund. Indeed, you can see below Sancho’s numbers on both sides this season. He has twice as much end product on the left as he has on the right despite having an equal number expected goal contributions. Indeed, he has more angles to finish on the left due to being right-footed, hence why it’s easier for him to finish low-quality chances. He is also a very composed finisher in front of goal. It leads him to finish chances an average finisher wouldn’t be able to.
First, we will talk about Sancho’s style of play on the right and see what he has to improve. Sancho is attracted to the centre of the pitch when he is positioned on the right. It’s easier for him to be positioned in the right half-space because he can come in the middle of the pitch and make a turn to face the goal. This is highlighted below.
If he likes to position himself in the right half-space, he is able to do it thanks to Achraf Hakimi’s offensive abilities. Indeed, when Sancho comes centrally to receive, he has space to turn himself because Hakimi maintains the width and takes the overlap to receive in behind the opponent’s defensive line.
Hakimi can control the right side on his own because he is powerful and very good technically. He knows what to do in order to be efficient for his side and has the technical abilities to go along with it. This is something you don’t see in many full-backs and Sancho might struggle a bit more on this side of the pitch with a different full-back. Hakimi’s behaviour when Sancho comes centrally is highlighted below.
Sancho is more of a central creative outlet when he is on the right side of the pitch. However, he is still able to receive in wider areas to make the play from there. Below, Sancho spots space on the right side and gets in behind to receive the ball. Once again, he knows exactly when to make the run for his teammates to make an easy pass. His intelligence and flair are impressive for a 20-year-old footballer who has played less than 100 professional games in his career.
On the left, Sancho is a bit more complete. He is able to drop deep to receive on the half turn. He also likes to drift wide or to position himself in the halfspace to make the play from there. But his main strength is to drive from deep and cut inside when he is close to the opponent’s box.
This is something he can do because he is a dangerous dribbler in tight spaces but also because his teammates are smart enough to vacate the space the Englishman needs when he cuts inside. Often, they even provide an extra passing lane by taking the overlap behind Sancho’s back.
This makes Sancho a lot harder to read because he can either go wide and make a cutback or cut inside and shoot. This is highlighted with his shots distribution below. Sancho has 38.8% of his shots coming from the left, compared to 28.3% from the right.
If you are also curious about where Sancho prefers to finish his chances, below is Sancho’s goal map this season. One can see Sancho prefers to score on the left or in the middle rather than on the right, even though he has played 500 more minutes on the right than on the left.
Below, you can see Sancho dropping deep to receive. He drops in between the lines to receive because he has spotted the free space. He is reminiscent of Neymar in that regard.
Sancho’s footballing IQ is already fairly developed for his age and his spatial awareness is even better on the left. Indeed, you can see below that Raphael Guerreiro, Dortmund’s left-back, has the ball. Sancho drifts wide in order to let Guerreiro have the space to drive forward. Thanks to this move, Dortmund have gained territory and it opened up passing lanes for players to run into.
All in all, the 20-year-old can be very complete on both sides but his habits on the left make him better on this side right now. He is multi-dimensional on this side, with the ability to cut in or drive on the byline to make a cutback. On the right, he is more of a playmaker than a goalscorer.
Nevertheless, Sancho’s skill set allows him to thrive on both sides as long as he is allowed to do what he does best at Dortmund: the ability to free-roam in between the lines to find space for his teammates to run into.
Weaknesses in Sancho’s game
Sancho is already very complete for his age but he can still improve. His decision making will be better with maturity and game time and his striking ability outside the box will have to be improved. But these are very minor improvements to make.
What Sancho has to improve is his explosiveness and his defensive awareness. Indeed, Sancho lacks this lightning speed forwards like Hazard and Neymar always had. He thrives on the counter thanks to his decision-making more than thanks to his pace. However, he can still work on it and be better in his footwork in order to compensate for this lack of explosiveness. About his defensive awareness, Sancho doesn’t track his runner. This is shown below. He lets Vertonghen run into space to deliver a very good cross for Heung-Min Son.
During the game against Inter, Dortmund defended in a 4-5-1 shape with Sancho as a right wide forward. Unfortunately, he was stepping out of the second line, leaving his opposite full-back alone in wide areas. Something he definitely has to improve on.
A winger has to possess many attributes to be considered as one of the best in the world. He has to be creative, to have a very good output to be able to create space by his movement, whether it is by his ball-carrying ability from deep or by his ability to run into depth beyond the defensive line. And Sancho is already close to it, hence why he is so effective.
He is already one of Europe’s best players at 20 years old. However, as a young player, he still has a lot of work to do to reach his full potential. Many have hailed the end of history, none have ever been right. This goes for young players as we can’t predict how they will be in five years and Sancho falls into this category. His weaknesses can be easily worked upon and once he improves in certain areas he is already very good at, he will fulfil his potential.