It’s time for Jadon Sancho to rediscover the best form in Erling Haaland’s absence

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“Listen. Understand … You can’t reason with him, you can’t negotiate with … he doesn’t feel sorry for remorse or fear … and he absolutely won’t stop. Never.”

Kyle Reese was describing the Terminator with those iconic words, but he very well could have been portraying Borussia Dortmund’s shocking shocking sensation Erling Haaland.

After somehow improving on his formidable form from last season, injury has conspired to triumph where rival defenses have failed, stopping the 20-year-old for once.

Since scoring a hat-trick from the bench with Dortmund in January, the newly crowned Golden Boy has continued to forge terrifying scoring prowess. In 19 appearances for the club and country this season, Haaland has amassed a disgusting 23-goal tally, including ten in the Bundesliga.

As the focal point of the team’s attack, Haaland’s absence leaves a huge hole in Dortmund’s front row. Yet a player certainly equipped with the ability to skillfully fill that void was the jewel in BVB’s crown before Haaland took the league and the continent by storm.

Jadon Sancho’s first weeks of 2020/21 have been in stark contrast to his teammate Haaland. The English international recorded double figures of league goals spirit he assists in each of the previous two seasons, but has yet to score in the Bundesliga this season and has only two assists in seven games.

The 20-year-old’s decline is perceived as even greater than it should be thanks to a sustained period of outperforming his underlying numbers.

In the 2018/19 and 2019/20 campaigns, Sancho scored 29 Bundesliga goals from open play, a sensational tally for a player operating primarily wide. However, his expected goal count (xG) was 16.7, still excellent, in the same period according to FBRef. Essentially, Sancho was enjoying a remarkable final streak, scoring roughly 12 more goals than a mathematical model predicted an average player would have given exactly the same shooting opportunities.

During the same time span, only one player from Europe’s top five leagues outperformed his xG tally by a larger margin; Lionel Messi.

It would be unreasonable to expect Sancho to maintain the same otherworldly level of completion as Messi, so his goal production is likely to always drop. However, this season his xG has also plummeted from elite to worryingly mediocre. Since Sancho continues to fire the same number of shots, about two per game, this drop is due to him aiming from significantly worse areas.

In the previous two seasons, Sancho averaged 0.18 xG per shot. This is a remarkably high figure and suggests that Sancho was in excellent goal positions, that is, in front of the goal with few bodies between him and the net. This campaign, his numbers have plummeted and he’s averaging 0.08 xG per shot, which is a drop of more than 50%. Combined with the fact that he’s getting fewer touches in the penalty area, it’s not entirely surprising that he hasn’t been able to find the net in the Bundesliga so far.

Jadon sancho
More than half of Sancho’s shots in the league this season have been blocked | DeFodi Images / Getty Images

During its meteoric rise over the past two years, Sancho’s has been an even more prolific supplier than an auctioneer. However, like his shooting numbers, Sancho’s assist stats also differ from the underlying numbers.

Thanks to the efficient shooting of his teammates, including Haaland’s boss, Sancho has accumulated 30 assists in the Bundesliga in the last two seasons, out of a total expected assists (xA) of 15.9. No player in the major European leagues could come close to this over-performance in that period of time.

This season Sancho continues to create chances at an above-average level, but at a diminished level compared to the stratospheric figures of past seasons, although the main concern should be his dramatic fall in front of goal.

Dortmund coach Lucien Favre cited incessant transfer speculation linking Sancho to a Manchester United signing last summer as a possible factor in the youngster’s slow start. But the team as a whole is creating even better opportunities this season compared to the previous season, suggesting an individual drop from Sancho.

Jadon Sancho as Lucien Favre
Lucien Favre (right) has rushed to defend his young forward this season | DeFodi Images / Getty Images

While the four games Haaland is scheduled to miss are not exactly standout matches, they are exactly the kind of games in which Dortmund have lost points that have cost them Germany’s top flight.

Alongside newly promoted VfB Stuttgart, Dortmund are scheduled to face Eintracht Frankfurt, Werder Bremen and Union Berlin. When BVB faced those last three teams in the first half of last season, before Haaland’s transfer in January, they couldn’t win any of them, losing seven points. By the way, with Haaland in the squad after Christmas, Dortmund got maximum points and their Norwegian leader scored in all three games.

If Dortmund want to avoid the bitter taste of second place or go down once again, these are the games they have to win.

It remains to be seen if Sancho will be able to rediscover his brilliant form in the next three weeks. However, Dortmund fans can rest assured that when the new year rolls around, Haaland will have fulfilled the chilling warning Arnold Schwarzenegger once uttered: “I’ll be back.”




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