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Replacing the Jadon Sancho-sized Hole in BVB’s Starting XI

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Sancho is a generational talent, and his output last season established him as one of the best attacking players in the world. How big of a setback is Sancho leaving? And how do BVB replace his output?

FBL-GER-BUNDESLIGA-DORTMUND-FRANKFURT Photo by INA FASSBENDER/AFP via Getty Images

Michael Zorc and Hans-Joachim Watzke made a gamble last summer to keep hold of Jadon Sancho to win silverware. Ultimately, it had mixed results. After another season in black and yellow, Sancho had a sensational year, won the DFB Pokal, and after an early season coaching change, a UCL qualification. But with COVID and the resulting financial situations, we saw Zorc’s asking price for the sensational talent drop by €20 million, with Ed Woodward forcing another 5 million Euro discount in the following negotiations.

Last season, Sancho scored 8 goals and assisted 11 more in the Bundesliga, down from 17 goals and 16 assist the season before. The English talent put up 5.45 shot creating actions per 90 minutes, 0.96 of those shots created being turned into goals per 90. Ironically, that speaks to BVB’s lack of clinical finishing this past season, as that was the lowest quantity of goals created from Sancho’s creativity since he became a routine starter for BVB in the 2018/2019 season.

Beyond just Sancho’s incredible creativity numbers, where he was in the 97th percentile of shot creating actions and 93rd percentile of xA for wingers and attacking midfielders in the top 5 leagues, Sancho is still a viable goal scoring threat. Sancho scored 8 goals last season, making him responsible for 10% of Dortmund’s goals in the 20/21 season. And while Sancho only puts 2.13 attempts per 90 minutes (56th percentile), Sancho puts himself in quality goal scoring opportunities, placing himself in the 74th percentile for non penalty xG and real goals per 90. What also should not be more than a quick note is Sancho’s responsibilities in ball progression for BVB last season. Sancho is in the 97th percentile for all attacking midfielders in progressive passes, progressive carries, and dribbles completed. The numbers that relate to Sancho’s role on the ball and moving the ball towards goal are unrivaled for an attacking player.

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Borussia Dortmund’s front office and Zorc have had to replace sensational wingers over the last years. The winger that Dortmund had the most difficulty replacing was Henrikh Mkhitaryan, although some of that could be attributed to the other departures that summer. Mkhi put up 11 goals and 15 assists in 15/16, and forced his hand for a move to Manchester United. His role in that Dortmund starting XI took Ousmane Dembele to step into his shoes, although it was a process. And with Sancho, we should expect the same process. The process includes various growing pains and adaptations to make new players and systems to work.

There are numerous ways that BVB try to replace Sancho, but directly trying to replace his output or put another player into his same role would be a mistake. Sancho is a generational talent, and while Dortmund are lucky to have players of the similar talent, it would be incredibly difficult to expect any player to do what he did these past seasons to the same level of efficiency and clinical fashion that he did.

HUNGARY-BUDAPEST-FOOTBALL-EURO 2020-CZECH REPUBLIC VS NETHERLANDS Photo by Attila Volgyi/Xinhua via Getty Images

Will someone like Malen replace Sancho? To a certain extent, yes. But directly replacing Sancho is not the objective with Malen. There are players out there to replace Sancho, but it would be a transition similar as Mkhi to Dembele. A refined and clinical player to a special but unrefined talent. But also, a Sancho-esque player would not fit within Rose’s preferred 4-4-2 diamond system. Rose had the availability of a unique talent in Marcus Thuram, and he utilized your standard 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 systems to fit Thuram on the flank. Malen would finally fix BVB’s long running problem of not having a second CF on the roster, gives the team tactical flexibility, and he’s a genuine goal scoring threat.

While Sancho’s strength laid more heavily on the creative side of the ball, Dortmund already have a wide selection of creative players, namely Hazard, Brandt, Reus, Dahoud, Guerreiro, and Bellingham. Scoring consistently without heavily relying on one player to come up with a clinical solution on net has been a repeating problem for BVB. And shaking up a wide set of variables, including head coach and tactical systems, is more likely to be successful than trying to directly replace someone who is borderline irreplaceable. Well, borderline irreplaceable for anyone operating on BVB’s budget during COVID.

Unless Zorc pulls a certified Zorc masterclass before he steps down from the director of football position and signs Messi. Because with the numbers that Sancho put up these past years, Messi is the only “available” option to do anything similar.

Statistics and other information gathered from FBRef.