The winger has lost his place in the England squad due to a lack of minutes at club level and his opportunities at Old Trafford continue to be limited
When Jadon Sancho completed his £73 million ($101m) move from Borussia Dortmund to Manchester United in the summer, he might have pinpointed the 186th Manchester derby as an occasion when he could truly make his mark in the Premier League.
It should have been an opportunity to silence the inevitable boos from the 3,000 Manchester City supporters inside Old Trafford, who saw the attacker develop in their academy before switching to the Bundesliga for more first-team opportunities in 2017.
Those boos will inevitably come when the teams are read out at 11.30am on Saturday but Sancho is unlikely to get much of a chance to silence them. He will likely take his usual seat on the bench next to Donny van de Beek and watch on as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side attempt to beat their crosstown rivals.
It’s not exactly gone to plan for Sancho since his big-money move.
He’s got just six starts to his name thus far and zero goals or assists. He has also lost his place in the England squad on the back of a lack of minutes. Sancho has played just 520 minutes across United’s 15 games in all competitions this season.
“With Jesse [Lingard] and with Jadon, they just aren’t playing a lot of football compared to the other players in their positions,” Gareth Southgate said after the latest England squad announcement on Thursday.
“Both of those boys totally understood that when I spoke with them. They get it. They know that they’ve got to get playing for their clubs, and playing well.
“And then England is a bonus on the top, but they’re both players that have done well for us. And I’m sure they’ll be back with us.”
Right now, though, it’s hard to see how Sancho will force his way back into the England set-up any time soon.
“You know I commit a crime every time I pick a team because there’s always players who are left out,” Solskjaer said after the 2-2 draw with Champions League rivals Atalanta on Tuesday.
“Jadon will come good. He has a great work rate and attitude and I thought he was really sharp when he came on. They all have a big role to play and he’ll have many, many years as a good player here.”
Sancho has fit in well with his team-mates but has yet to adapt to life in the Premier League at the speed which many were anticipating. Chances have been limited due to the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo and that partly explains his troubles.
When Sancho’s transfer was finalised, Ronaldo was not part of Solskjaer’s plans but when that situation changed at the last minute, so did the Norwegian’s tactics.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner continues to show why the team is shaped to accommodate him. He is the difference-maker. But that, in turn, means there is less space for Sancho.
The only time he has played 90 minutes this season came in the Carabao Cup defeat to West Ham and he hasn’t even made it off the bench in the last two league games.
It has led to widespread discussion among pundits over Sancho and whether he made a mistake in moving to Old Trafford.
World Cup winner Lothar Matthaus said this week that Sancho should have stayed at Dortmund, while Gary Neville said the forward must be wondering where his career is going.
But is it his fault?
He came to the club at a time when the performances – and attacking displays in particular – have looked disjointed. The midfield isn’t creating enough chances for the forwards and he has mainly been tasked with playing on the left when his preference is on the right.
Goal understands that Sancho had a lot of work to do to get up to full fitness when he arrived at the club and that meant he started the season on the back foot. The team’s performances since then haven’t enabled him to get going.
And if Solskjaer is going to persist with a back five, as he has done in the last two games, then it is hard to see where his opportunity will come.
Ronaldo, Edinson Cavani, Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood and possibly Jesse Lingard all find themselves ahead of the England international in the pecking order to occupy those front two spots.
The questions on Sancho will keep coming for Solskjaer the same way they have kept coming about Van de Beek. But Sancho must follow a different path to the Dutchman, who is seeking a January exit from the club.
The two have become bench buddies this season but Sancho needs to ensure that their United careers will start going in different directions from here.