What makes Jadon Sancho so good?
Jadon Sancho has exploded onto the European football scene with Borussia Dortmund, but what is it that makes England's generational talent so effective?
London-born, Watford- and Manchester City-raised but most definitely Dortmund-bred, Sancho swapped the English Premier League for the Signal Iduna Park in the summer of 2017 with first-team opportunities at a premium.
Three-and-a-half short seasons later and Sancho is a world-class winger with 46 goals and 64 assists in 104 Bundesliga games to his name, who has also collected a DFB Cup, DFL Supercup and 19 England caps to date.
Dortmund are one of the best clubs in the world for young players - Erling Haaland, Gio Reyna and Jude Bellingham have all be lighting up European football and are still eligible for U21 play - but Sancho is arguably the furthest along in his progress.
Join bundesliga.com as we try to do what so few defenders have managed to date: work out Jadon Sancho's game…
Watch: Jadon Sancho's Bundesliga Mixtape!
Dribbling and close control
Perhaps the most striking facet of Sancho's play, and the one most likely to lift fans off their seats, is Sancho's silky ball control.
Born to Trinidadian parents in Camberwell, South London, Sancho grew up good friends with Reiss Nelson, the Arsenal winger who spent the 2018/19 season on loan with Hoffenheim. The pair honed their skills on the streets, competing and spurring one another onto greater heights. By the time the Southwark London Youth Games came along in 2011, having them both on the same team was borderline unfair.
"When I saw Jadon and Reiss I thought 'these boys are mad,'" Sayce Holmes-Lewis, a former coach and teacher, explained to the Daily Mail. "Jadon was just making people look stupid. The nutmegs, the skills. Some were outrageous. And it was other academy players they were doing this against."
Watch: Sancho's mercurial control for his second - and arguably best - Bundesliga assist (from 00:57):
Fast forward a few years - although not many - and Sancho's outrageous ball control was on full display in Dortmund's 4-0 win over Bayer Leverkusen on Matchday 31 of the 2017/18 campaign. At this point Sancho was just one assist into his Bundesliga career, but he opened the scoring for BVB against Bayer before laying on two more.
The first assist, for Maximilian Philipp, needs to be seen to be believed. It wasn't just that Sancho had the wherewithal to find his attacking teammate; Sancho pulled the ball out of the sky with the outside of his foot and carried on at full pace, making the eventual pass to a goal possible at all.
Pace to burn
There is many a mercurial talent who uses their trickery to get past an opponent because they might not win a footrace with their marker. The great No.10s of yore like Zinedine Zidane or Juan Roman Riquelme had that extra yard in their head, and even today, Philippe Coutinho would rather dip his shoulder and feint his way past a defender than simply outrun him.
But Sancho is quite unique in that he also boasts the sheer athleticism to go with his incredible technique and imagination. Barcelona legend Xavi recently said that his former club lacked wide players like Sancho and fellow Bundesliga stalwart Serge Gnabry. The pair, as well as RB Leipzig's Christopher Nkunku, perhaps look best placed to steal the show from Robbery - the departed Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery - as the Bundesliga's top wingers, but Sancho is the quickest of them.
Watch: Sancho's Supercup display under the tactical microscope (his rocket-fuelled goal from 00:37)
Gnabry and Nkunku have maxed out at 20.9 miles per hour, whereas as Sancho has clocked 21.5mph at top speed. Returning to that DFL Supercup triumph, his searing pace can be seen at full tilt. Sancho scored the second of Dortmund's two goals in their 2-0 win over Bayern in the 2019 showpiece, leaving one David Alaba in his wake.
Decision-making and vision
So, the S on Sancho's pyjamas could stand for skill or speed, but Super-Sancho knows exactly when to lean on which of the above strengths.
It has already proved to be the right decision to swap Manchester City for Dortmund: former academy teammate Phil Foden has made 69 Premier League appearances with Pep Guardiola's side in the time that Sancho has made 104 in the Bundesliga, and the now-21-year-old has kept making the right choices since.
Kids in the playground might try and beat their man twice, showing off years before developing a more mature head for the game, but Sancho only does it to open up space in the opposition defence. More than once the Englishman has found himself the furthest Dortmund player forward. His ability to skin his marker more than once simply gives teammates time to break into the box.
Sancho's number of assists since his arrival in the Bundesliga rubber-stamps that point. Thomas Müller is the only player in the league to have laid on more goals (67 to Sancho's 64), but the majority of the Bayern man's assists have been for Robert Lewandowski.
Lewandowski and Müller have played alongside each other for seven seasons now, and although the Raumdeuter is a special player, it helps his assist numbers that the game's pre-eminent striker has played alongside him for so long.
Sancho assisted 11 different players in the 2019/20 season - Paco Alcacer, Marco Reus, Thorgan Hazard, Nico Schulz, Julian Brandt, Haaland, Raphael Guerreiro, Axel Witsel, Mats Hummels and Dan-Axel Zagadou - and his tally would have been higher if more of his nine further big chances created had been finished off.
He can take as well as make
The other assisters in the league simply do not score at the same rate as Sancho either. Only Lewandowski (34) and Leipzig's Timo Werner (28) fired home more in 2019/20, and they're centre-forwards, even if the latter has moved deeper and wider as the season has progressed.
"I want to score, that's one of my main things, to score," Sancho told bundesliga.com, as if he needed another string to his bow. "I'm just working for the team and that's what I want."
Watch: Haaland, Sancho and the Bundesliga's most ruthless goalscorers
It certainly works. Sancho needs just 3.1 shots per goal. He shoots early to catch the opposition goalkeeper off-guard, but if the shot isn't on, he'd rather start again, trick, assist, dribble, create space, wait for the next chance.
Only Haaland and Borussia Mönchengladbach captain Lars Stindl have required less shots per goal over the last two seaons, but they are both central strikers. Sancho starts out wide and has had plenty of games for his percentages to dip, but they simply haven't.
Adaptability and dedication
Perhaps unsurprisingly given the breadth of his talent, Sancho is able to operate across the final third. Able to go left or right past a defender and then score or assist with equal efficiency, it barely matters what side Sancho starts on.
Sancho's grandmother sadly passed away ahead of Dortmund's Revierderby clash with Schalke in December 2018. The youngster, then 18, was offered the weekend off, but flew back from London on the Friday and scored the decisive goal in a 2-1 win on the Saturday.
"The goal means everything to my family," Sancho said at the time. "Sadly, my grandmother passed away, so that goal was for her. I'm glad that I got the goal and helped the team to get three points."
If she's still watching the game from above, Ms. Sancho will now be looking down on a generational talent. With his combination of skill, trickery, game intelligence, goal-threat and will-power, Sancho has already begun to prove that he is in a league of his own.
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