Sancho struggle highlights Solskjaer problem

Sancho struggle highlights Solskjaer problem

Jadon Sancho's Manchester United adventure has got off to a slow start under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has pressing issues, in more ways than one. As a result, in the aftermath of Manchester United’s humiliating 5-0 defeat to Liverpool at Old Trafford on Sunday, Jadon Sancho might not be his immediate priority.

And yet, if Solskjaer is continuing to look to the longer term, and his comments about being “too close to give up now” suggest he still believes there is a route to glory here, Sancho sitting out the game as an unused substitute does not reflect well on anyone.

While the knock-on effects of Cristiano Ronaldo’s¬†arrival have brought complications, there can be some sympathy. United were in a tricky position. Perhaps it was a chance too good to turn down. But Sancho is the club’s ¬£73m summer signing. Solskjaer’s signing.

The acquisition of Sancho was almost two years in the making. There should be no such tactical conundrum, no excuse for any lack of clarity regarding his role in the team.

So, why does it all feel so off the cuff? It is as if there is confusion that one of Europe’s most gifted young players cannot just turn up, beat four men and solve everything for this side. Disappointment that he has been unable to conjure something up from nothing.

Eleven appearances, no goals and no assists.

His underwhelming start has even raised doubts about his ability. Those doubts are misplaced. “Jadon Sancho is a world-class talent,” said Jurgen Klopp recently. “He has all the things you need to become really one of the best players in the world in the future.”

But for that to happen, there still needs to be plans in and out of possession, there needs to be a strategy to allow these stars to perform to their best. Systems must be put in place.

Already there are echoes of the situation with Donny van de Beek, a player who thrived at Ajax where the passing combinations were intricate, the build-up play structured. United life seems to favour those who can deliver magic moments. That only takes a team so far.

Recruitment matters, of course, but so do the ideas of the coaches. For example, it is now being said that Mason Greenwood ‘cannot press’ but he is 19 – he can do it if he is taught.

The signing of Sancho effectively fast-tracked that process because he has spent four seasons learning to do so at Borussia Dortmund. By his own admission, he made great progress in the defensive phase of the game, learning where to move without the ball.

Sancho ranked among the top 50 players in the Bundesliga for pressures in the final third of the pitch in each of the past three seasons. What must he make of Manchester United?

So far this season, United have the fewest successful pressures of any team in the Premier League, with only Newcastle managing fewer in the final third. They are slow to close down and when they do it is not co-ordinated, making them far too easy to play through.

It does not feel like a lack of effort. United rank highly for high-intensity sprints. Hence hand-waving exasperation becoming a theme as players close down the ball only to find a teammate not supporting them. Moments later, the roles are reversed. Rinse and repeat.

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