Sports

England need Sancho vs. Germany, but will risk-averse Southgate start him?

Jadon Sancho is the player who Borussia Dortmund teammate Erling Haaland describes as “The Man” and Manchester United‘s top summer transfer target, yet he has registered just six minutes on the pitch after becoming the forgotten man in Gareth Southgate’s squad as England prepare to face Germany in a Euro 2020 round-of-16 tie on Tuesday (LIVE on ESPN and ESPN+ in the U.S at 12 p.m. ET).

Sources have told ESPN that Sancho will finally earn his big-money move to Old Trafford in the coming weeks after two years of transfer speculation. But despite a reputation as one of Europe’s brightest young talents, Sancho has been crowded out by the likes of Raheem Sterling, Jack Grealish and Bukayo Saka so far during Euro 2020.

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While Manchester City forward Sterling has justified his selection by scoring two goals in three games for Southgate’s team — he remains their only goal scorer in the competition — England have been anything but exciting or adventurous in their Group D encounters with Croatia, Scotland and the Czech Republic.

England have scored just two goals in 180 minutes and sit in 17th position in UEFA’s official tournament statistics — between Scotland and Turkey, two teams who have already been eliminated — with just 102 attacks in their three games. Italy, albeit having played one more game, sit at the top of the charts with 243 attacks. Tuesday’s opponents at Wembley, Germany, sit in sixth position having created 177 attacks and Joachim Low’s team go into the game having scored three times as many goals as England.

Although Southgate possesses arguably the deepest pool of top-quality attacking talent at Euro 2020 — Sterling, Grealish, Saka, Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford, Phil Foden, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Sancho — he has been unable to fully exploit the embarrassment of riches available to him. So what is the issue with Sancho and why does Southgate appear to be so reluctant to select him from the start of games?

It may say more about Southgate’s true nature than Sancho’s talent that when ESPN attempted to find out, one response gave more evidence of Southgate’s risk-averse approach to the game than the 21-year-old’s ability to change it. “I just don’t think Gareth trusts him [Sancho] without the ball,” a source familiar with Southgate’s tactical outlook told ESPN.

In the modern game, Southgate is by no means the only coach to expect his attacking players to do more for the team than traditional forwards, who left the defending to the defenders and focused on prowling the final third of the pitch in hope of a scoring chance. Pep Guardiola demanded, and got, more from Sergio Aguero than the striker produced before the Spaniard took charge as City manager in 2016. Guardiola has also made Sterling and Foden work just as hard defensively as they do going forward.

When asked about Sancho’s failure to earn more game time earlier in the tournament, however, Southgate offered a general response about the need to understand the lack of experience of some of the younger players in his squad who were participating in their first major finals. That may be a valid point, but Foden and Saka are also young and playing in their first tournament and both have started games ahead of Sancho, who made his senior England debut three years ago and has been a regular in the Bundesliga and Champions League with Dortmund since signing from City in 2017.

When asked on the Official England Podcast, Sancho made it clear that he regards his European experience as being significant. “To be fair, I feel like because I’ve been playing Champions League in the last three years, I feel like that’s a major tournament. I know what it takes,” Sancho said. “Coming to another tournament, I just see it as like another Champions League.”

Sancho is no rookie on the big stage, and he is a player that Germany will be glad to see on the substitutes’ bench at Wembley considering his contribution for Dortmund last season. Among England’s attacking players, Sancho recorded the best chance conversion rate of all of them for his club last season, although he was the only one playing outside the Premier League, so his numbers must be viewed with that in mind.

His conversion rate of 21.3% placed him top, ahead of Everton‘s Calvert-Lewin with 20.6%. Even Tottenham Hotspur‘s Kane, the winner of the Premier League Golden Boot, could only manage 17.6%. Sancho created 1.09 chances per 90 minutes last season — again the highest number among his England teammates. Aston Villa‘s Grealish is next best with 0.94 per 90 minutes, while Foden registers 0.83 per 90 minutes. Sterling, meanwhile, managed just 0.59 chances per 90 minutes for City last season as they won the Premier League title under Guardiola.

Club performance is clearly not a direct indicator of international form, but Sancho has been given few opportunities to prove himself consistently for England by Southgate. His last 90 minutes for England was in a 3-0 friendly win against the Republic of Ireland at Wembley last November and he has started just once since then, when he was substituted after 65 minutes in a pre-tournament friendly against Romania last month. And after failing to get on the pitch against Croatia and Scotland, Sancho was given the final six minutes of the 1-0 win against Czech Republic last week. In that brief cameo, he had just four touches of the ball.

With Germany next up, though, he is determined to use his knowledge of Low’s players to his, and England’s, advantage.

“I know quite a lot of the players in Germany,” Sancho said. “I play against them week in, week out. It’s definitely interesting seeing them with their national team so hopefully again, if I play, then I would know the ins and outs of what players can do.”

Sancho’s participation in a huge game for England depends solely on Southgate, though. And with it being the Germans, and Sancho’s insight into the opponents’ strengths and weaknesses, it would seem as though he couldn’t be better suited to a game in the whole tournament.

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