Football fans are rarely happy for the start of the international break, but Manchester United supporters are probably enjoying this two-week stress-free period in the calendar.
It’s not been an easy flowing month for Manchester United manager Gunnar Solskjaer, whose players turned in some struggling and disjointed displays, culminating in winning only twice in six matches across all competitions.
One of the many concerns that Ole Gunnar’s side carried into the international break was the form of winger Jadon Sancho, who, having waited two years to see his transfer saga end in him wearing the red jersey, was not quite living up to expectations.
It’s natural, of course. The former Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund star was arriving from a different league and adapting to a different style of play (although what Man Utd’s style of play actually is, is still up for debate).
Not to mention, the boy is only 21-years-old, and is coming back from what must have been a scarring and heartbreaking end to Euro 2020, after missing a spot-kick in the final defeat to Italy.
So, Sancho’s confidence may well have been shot heading into the new season, and anxiety levels were probably raised, given the hefty expectations placed on his young shoulders. In some ways, he was probably grateful for the international break, too.
Fact is, there are no easy games in the Premier League, and no team will simply gift-wrap a confidence boosting victory and place it on your lap. The English top flight is a ruthless place when things aren’t going your way.
International football and one-sided World Cup qualifiers, on the other hand, are a hotbed for a return to form. England manager Gareth Southgate placed his trust in Sancho from the first minute against Andorra, and he did not disappoint.
Sancho bagged two assists in the 5-0 pasting, caused an Andorran defender to tear his hamstring when trying to catch him, and generally looked a cut above the other players on the pitch on Saturday night.
His first assist was a thing of beauty, darting undetected in behind the defence with a diagonal dash, controlling Phil Foden’s lofted pass and cutting the ball back to Ben Chilwell. The Chelsea left-back hammered home, and after VAR’s intervention, England were up and running.
He spent the rest of the first half pulling Foden’s cross-field pings out of the air, squaring up to his full-back and turning him inside out. He whipped a string of dangerous crosses into the middle, but Tammy Abraham couldn’t quite profit from his generosity.
That all changed 15 minutes after the break though, when he curled a cross into the box that was so delicious, Abraham couldn’t help but bag his first England goal in two years. Sancho placed the ball exactly between the goalkeeper and centre-back, and the Roma forward nipped in to poke a shot beyond the stranded shot-stopper.
It was the kind of delivery that Cristiano Ronaldo lives for, and the Portuguese forward will be left with a giant grin on his face when he catches the highlights of the Three Lions’ domination. It was encouraging for Man Utd fans too, who were offered another glimpse of what to expect from Sancho, even if they haven’t seen it in the famous red just yet.
It was a perfect evening for the forward, whose efforts were recognised by teammate Jack Grealish at the final whistle.
“I thought Phil and Jadon were brilliant,” the Man City star said. “Unbelievable, I thought the pair of them were outstanding.”
Likewise, Southgate was full of praise for his winger, and reassured Man Utd fans that his time at Old Trafford will come.
“It was not easy for a winger in a game like tonight because sometimes you’re receiving the ball with two or three defenders really close, so you’ve got to pick the right moments to set the ball off and the right moments to back yourself to take one or two of those players out, and I thought he did that exceptionally well a couple of times.
“It was important that he got the assist because you’ve got to have that productivity. We shouldn’t be surprised that for such a young player to have such a big change in his life: new league, new club, different style of play, different training regime, back living in Manchester, moving house – that’s a lot to take in.
“So it’s going to need time, but he showed a lot of the qualities that he has tonight and I know that will come with the club as well.”
He speaks a lot of sense, doesn’t he? As ever, football is more than just the 90 minutes on the pitch, and exterior factors have played a big part in Sancho’s on-field displays. But this international break has been the perfect remedy, and he looks to have turned a corner.
So, the transfer window may be closed long time ago, but we may finally see the real Jadon Sancho we were used to at Borussia Dortmund make his Man Utd debut against Leicester City this coming Saturday, as we should never write off the young lad.