Time for Jadon Sancho to Rediscover Best Form in Erling Haaland’s Absence

Grey Whitebloom
Jadon Sancho has endured a testing start to the Bundesliga campaign and will now have to improve without the prolific frontman Erling Haaland
Jadon Sancho has endured a testing start to the Bundesliga campaign and will now have to improve without the prolific frontman Erling Haaland / DeFodi Images/Getty Images
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"Listen. Understand... It can't be reasoned with, it can't be bargained with... it doesn't feel pity of remorse or fear... and it absolutely will not stop. Ever."

Kyle Reese was describing the Terminator with those iconic words but he could very well have been depicting Borussia Dortmund's unrelenting striking sensation, Erling Haaland.

After somehow improving upon his blistering form from last season, injury has conspired to succeed where opposition defences have failed, halting the 20-year-old for once.

Since bagging debut hat-trick off the bench for Dortmund last January, the newly crowned Golden Boy has continued to forge a frightening goalscoring prowess. In 19 appearances for club and country this season, Haaland has amassed the sickening tally of 23 goals, including ten already in the Bundesliga.

As the focal point of the side's attack, Haaland's absence leaves a gaping hole in Dortmund's frontline. However, one player certainly equipped with the ability to ably fill that void was the jewel in BVB's crown before Haaland took the league, and the continent, by storm.

Jadon Sancho's opening weeks of 2020/21 have been in stark contrast to those of his teammate Haaland. The England international recorded double figures for league goals and assists in each of the two previous campaigns but is yet to score in the Bundesliga this term and has just two assists from seven games.

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

Across the 2018/19 and 2019/20 campaigns, Sancho scored 29 Bundesliga goals from open play - a sensational tally for a player chiefly operating out wide. However, his expected goals (xG) tally was 16.7 - still superb - in the same period according to FBRef. Essentially, Sancho was enjoying a remarkable finishing hot streak, scoring roughly 12 goals more than a mathematical model predicted an average player would have given the exact same shooting opportunities.

During the same time span, only one player in Europe's top five league's outperformed their xG tally by a greater margin; Lionel Messi.

it would be unreasonable to expect Sancho to maintain the same level of otherworldly finishing as Messi, so his goal output was alway likely to dip. However, this season his xG has also plummeted from the elite to worryingly mediocre. Given Sancho is continuing to take the same number of shots - around two per game - this drop off is because he's taking aim from significantly worse areas.

Over the previous two campaigns, Sancho averaged 0.18 xG per shot. This is a remarkably high figure and suggests Sancho was finding himself in excellent goalscoring positions - i.e. in front of goal with few bodies between himself and the net. This campaign his figures have plummeted and he’s averaging 0.08 xG per shot, representing more than a 50% drop off. Combined with the fact that he’s taking fewer touches in the penalty area, it’s not entirely surprising he has failed to find the net in the Bundesliga so far.

More than half of Sancho's shots in the league this season have been blocked
More than half of Sancho's shots in the league this season have been blocked / DeFodi Images/Getty Images

During his meteoric rise over the past two years, Sancho's has been an even more prolific provider than finisher. However, much like his shooting figures, Sancho's assist statistics also differ from the underlying numbers.

Thanks to the efficient finishing of his teammates - Haaland chief among them - Sancho racked up an eye-watering 30 Bundesliga assists in the past two seasons, from an expected assists (xA) tally of 15.9. No player from Europe's major leagues could come close to this over-performance in that time period.

This season Sancho is continuing to create chances at an above average, but diminished level compared to the stratospheric figures of past campaigns, though the main concern should be his dramatic drop in front of goal.

Dortmund's manager Lucien Favre cited the unrelenting transfer speculation linking Sancho with a move to Manchester United last summer as a possible factor for the young man's slow start. But the team, as a whole, are creating even better chances this season compared to the previous campaign, which suggests an individual drop off from Sancho.

Lucien Favre (right) has been quick to defend his young forward this term
Lucien Favre (right) has been quick to defend his young forward this term / DeFodi Images/Getty Images

While the four matches Haaland is scheduled to miss aren't exactly standout fixtures, they are exactly the kind of games in which Dortmund have previously dropped 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 met those latter three sides in the first half of last season - before Haaland's January transfer - they failed to win any of them, dropping seven points. Incidentally, with Haaland in the side post-Christmas, Dortmund picked up maximum points and their Norwegian frontman scored in all three games.

If Dortmund want to avoid the bitter taste of second place or lower once more, these are the fixtures they have to win.

Whether Sancho can rediscover his glittering form over the next three weeks remains to be seen. However, Dortmund fans can rest assured that come the new year, Haaland will have fulfilled the blood-curdling warning Arnold Schwarzenegger once delivered: "I'll be back."

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