When injuries to Luke Shaw and Harry Maguire left Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with only one game-changing substitution against Aston Villa on Saturday, there was three realistic candidates to come on.
First was Edinson Cavani, the striker who did come on to play alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and won the penalty which Bruno Fernandes missed. Cavani has started this season slowly but is a world-class centre forward who scored 10 times in his final 11 games for Manchester United last season.
Solskjaer could also have turned to Jesse Lingard, a goalscorer off the bench in United’s last two Premier League games, showing he can make an impact as a super-sub this season. But for those injuries, Lingard would almost certainly have been the next player Solskjaer had turned to.
Finally, there was Jadon Sancho, although nobody really expected the 21-year-old to be the man sent on to try and rescue United. He’d completed his first 90 minutes as a United player in midweek but hadn’t stood out in the Carabao Cup defeat to West Ham and so far Sancho’s United career has been notable for the lack of impact.
That followed Sancho’s withdrawal against Young Boys as the sacrificial attacker when Aaron Wan-Bissaka was sent off and after Premier League starts against Wolves and Newcastle but he’s been back amongst the substitutes against West Ham and Aston Villa.
Sancho has yet to register a goal or an assist since his £73million move from Borussia Dortmund and while he’s been signed to be a world-class asset for United for 10 years rather than 10 weeks, he is due to make an impact soon given his superb record for Dortmund, in the Bundesliga and the Champions League.
It was always going to take time for Sancho to get used to swapping life at Dortmund for the harsher spotlight at United, but this is a winger who registered 50 goals and 58 assists in 137 games for Dortmund, including five goals and six assists in 21 Champions League fixtures.
On the evidence of form this season Sancho can have no complaints about being behind Paul Pogba on the left and Mason Greenwood on the right, but the fight for places is going to get tougher in the coming weeks. Not only has Lingard emerged as a genuine squad player, but Marcus Rashford is expected back in the squad by the end of October.
That puts the pressure on Sancho to start raising his game and he will be disappointed with the slow-burn start to his United career so far.
The good news is the schedule should allow him more opportunities, even if United’s Carabao Cup exit at the earliest possible opportunity is a blow to the squad players in Solskjaer’s ranks.
While Greenwood’s start to the season has been good he will be rested at times as United handle his development cautiously, so it might be Sancho is back in the side against Villarreal tonight.
Solskjaer won’t be making too many changes for this tie, given defeat to Young Boys two weeks ago has shrunk the margin for error in this group. United have to beat Villarreal and Atalanta in successive home games.
But Sancho should be good enough to play a part in winning those games. United haven’t seen the best of him yet but having been left kicking his heels on Saturday, this might be an ideal time to let him loose.
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