What is Jadon Sancho's best position?
Before Erling Braut Haland arrived at Borussia Dortmund, Jadon Sancho was the hottest teenager in the powerful German side known for developing young talent. His decision to leave Manchester City and his home country has already paid enormous dividends. It's still an odds-on bet that this smarterscout young prospect, who recently turned 20, will soon be plying his trade in the Premier League. But there's a question about Sancho that no one seems to be able to answer definitively – what's his best position?
One of Sancho's England youth coaches, Dan Micciche, thinks it may be LW. "Even though he’s right-footed, when he’s dribbling at people on that left side he can actually go inside or outside and that makes him very difficult to defend against," he told the Guardian. Yet Sancho hasn't lined up on the left much during his time at Dortmund. So where should he play?
Last season Sancho lined up almost exclusively at RW, with Jacob Bruun Larsen often mirroring him on the left. Despite what Micciche said, Sancho's stats at RW would have been difficult to improve, with extremely high attacking output and ball retention. Here they are at a Premier League standard:
But Lucien Favre wasn't content to leave well enough alone. With the departures of Christian Pulisic and Bruun Larsen, this season Sancho has been working all over the pitch, but most often as a mobile attacking midfielder:
And again, he's been excellent all around; indeed, even his defending has gone from average to quite good. He's also an extrordinary finisher in open play. He doesn't look like the best dribbler by the standard of Premier League wingers, but he is quite a good tackler.
What about at LW? Sancho hasn't had many minutes starting in that position since 2017-18, when his attacking output wasn't quite as high (he was 18!) and his defending was actually better, albeit in a small sample of 551'. But if LW really is his natural position, why haven't his coaches played him there more often? Well, they sort of have.
Take a look at Sancho's smartermaps for RW in 2018-19 and CAM/SS in 2019-20:
Sancho was already making his way over to the left side now and then last season. This season he's been splitting his time more evenly between the flanks, with a preference for the left. As befits more of a central role, he's been doing a more long passing towards goal from the channels this season, particularly on the left – all those yellow and orange markers. And he's also been taking more shots from prime positions in the middle of the pitch.
Yet the main differences in his style of play have been less dribbling and more link-up passing this season at CAM/SS:
This makes sense for a player who's become more than just a sparkplug on the wing. Sancho is now tasked with weaving together the strands of the Dortmund attack, creating opportunities for himself but for others as well. In fact, while captain Marco Reus's assist rate has fallen this season, Sancho's has increased by about 25%. His importance to Dortmund is obvious and growing. But where should Sancho start if he comes to the Premier League?
Chelsea used to have a player named Eden Hazard (maybe you've heard of him?) who could range across the final third but had a strong preference for the left side. But they've already signed Pulisic and Hakim Ziyech, and there's always Callum Hudson-Odoi in waiting. Manchester City have Raheem Sterling, Riyad Mahrez, and Bernardo Silva on the wings, plus Phil Foden ready to replace David Silva. We have it on good authority that Liverpool also possess a couple of talented wingers. Manchester United have Bruno Fernandes holding down the central playmaker role, but they could use an upgrade over Daniel James and Jesse Lingard on the wings.
Playing Sancho at RW could allow Anthony Martial to return to his best position at LW, with a more natural CF in between. But if the Red Devils want to keep Martial at CF and see Mason Greenwood at RW, then Sancho could end up at LW himself. And here's the thing – although Sancho's numbers at LW over the years have been very good, there's been one critical difference. Although he's been involved in just as many attacks leading to shots and good chances, these attacks have consistently yielded fewer goals when he's been at LW than at CAM/SS or RW.
Is this because of Sancho's tendencies as a striker? Or has it just been a quirk of Dortmund's setup? Either way, it will be fascinating to find out.
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