Manchester United will travel to Aston Villa to extend their unbeaten run to double digits in all competitions but will be without Bruno Fernandes in the West Midlands.
The Portuguese midfielder, who has so far featured in every game during Erik ten Hag’s reign at United, will be out through suspension. The stand-in captain has led the way in the “chances created” category with six for United thus far in the Premier League season, and his absence will present the man in charge with a selection dilemma.
The obvious options are to play Christian Eriksen in the No. 10 role and partner Casemiro with Fred or bring in Donny van de Beek without tweaking the Eriksen-Casemiro pivot.
However, moving the Dane higher up the pitch would affect United’s progression of the ball from deep, and Van de Beek proved to be an anonymous presence in midfield for much of his time against Real Sociedad.
Instead, Ten Hag could use this opportunity not only to find an apt competitor for Fernandes but also to rejuvenate the confidence of Jadon Sancho, who has seemingly lost his place in the starting XI to Marcus Rashford and Alejandro Garnacho,
The former Borussia Dortmund man hasn’t found the same joy as a touch-line winger. The lack of directness and intensity from the England international has seen him being easily nullified in isolated situations out wide. Additionally, he has been guilty of frequently failing to track back and support his full back.
One way to reduce Sancho’s workload out of possession and provide him with more opportunities to create favorable situations consistently via combination play is to deploy him in the left half-space as the most advanced midfielder in a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 formation.
With Manchester United preferring a 3-1-6 shape in possession under Ten Hag, Sancho would benefit from the overload on the left and link up with both Rashford and Luke Shaw to create openings for chance creation and box entries. He’d also find more time and opportunity to exploit the space when receiving the ball between the lines.
Sancho has never been a winger who uses his pace and physicality to take on his man, or stretch/disrupt the backline with his tiresome runs in behind. The 22-year-old wide playmaker rather manipulates spaces and cuts open low blocks with the ball at his feet.
United chased the talented Englishman since his youth days at Manchester City academy and spent big to bring him back to Manchester from Dortmund. But thus far, the Red Devils have not succeeded in finding the ideal role nor have they created an environment in which he can thrive.
Increased territorial and possessional dominance in recent Manchester United outings accompanied with the unavailability of their creator-in-chief could give a new lease on life to Sancho and open up new attacking avenues for the Dutch coach’s ever-developing side.