Why Manchester United signing Jadon Sancho deserves England starting role vs Italy
The new United man started the semi-final on the bench, and his place in the final on Sunday remains uncertain
It was a historic night for English football on Wednesday as Gareth Southgate’s men secured the nation’s first major final appearance in 55 years.
The Three Lions came from behind to overcome Denmark 2-1, with Harry Kane converting the rebound from his own missed penalty in extra time to seal a famous victory.
As the initial delirium has begun to subside, attention has quickly switched to the final where England head back to Wembley to take on a tough and robust Italian side.
One of the many questions heading into that game will centre around team selection. And from a Manchester United point of view, fans will be eager to see whether new signing Jadon Sancho will be reinstated back into the starting 11.
The 21-year-old started and played his first full 90 minutes of the tournament in the quarter-final victory over Ukraine, yet he was dropped for Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka in Wednesday’s semi-final win vs Denmark.
It’s not unusual for Southgate to make subtle changes to his starting 11 from match to match, yet it’s now unclear whether it’ll be Sancho or Saka who’ll take to the pitch in Sunday’s showpiece event.
While Arsenal’s exciting teenager has more than impressed in an England shirt of late — and is worthy of his heavy involvement in the tournament so far — there’s a strong case to be made that Sancho is the better-suited option based on the opposition.
Under Roberto Mancini, Italy are a well-organised outfit that prioritises defensive solidity above all else. This isn’t to say they don’t pose a serious threat in attack, but just that everything they do is initially built on strong defensive foundations.
In order to disrupt their set-up, utilising attacking players who can drive and dribble at Italian defenders will be key, both in terms of bypassing them or pulling players away from their set positions, to create openings for teammates to exploit.
United fans are well versed in the fact Sancho is one of the most dangerous young dribblers around, and it’s an area that he particularly excels in when compared directly to Saka.
This point is captured by the fact that last season at Dortmund, United’s newest recruit averaged 7.48 dribbles per 90, with a success rate of 46.11 per cent.
Saka’s success rate in the Premier League with Arsenal was marginally better at 52.5 per cent, yet his output was noticeably lower at 5.29 per 90.
Like anything in football, tactical roles could impact the above, yet at a glance, the same does look to highlight that Sancho is better suited to dribble and disrupt the Italian backline if given the license.
Not just that, but Sancho also bettered Saka in terms of progressive runs per 90, 4.73 vs 2.25 and accelerations per 90, 2.62 vs 1.26.
These two points could be crucial in the moments when Italy do advance forward and leave their backline —containing ageing centre-backs Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci — exposed.
Both players have formed a formidable partnership in the tournament so far, however, they’re at their strongest when the play is in front of them. When facing pacey attackers or having to defend space in behind, they’re much more vulnerable.
After Wednesday’s historic victory, Southgate may deem upsetting a winning formula too risky. However, the above is evidence that United’s new signing Sancho could prove a pivotal player behind any England success, should he be reinstated to the starting lineup.