Football news - Should Jadon Sancho start or be an impact player for England against USA?
Ben Grounds digs into the big issue facing Gareth Southgate: should Jadon Sancho be handed his full England debut?
The Borussia Dortmund speed merchant has been lighting up the Bundesliga with his enterprising displays catching the attention of Southgate and the England coaching staff.
There’s no doubting his huge potential, and the 18-year-old looks set for a fine international career just as one illustrious name departs.
Southgate has confirmed that Wayne Rooney will not start the international friendly against USA at Wembley on Thursday, but will be one of the six substitutes allowed during the game by UEFA.
Why is Sancho the name on everyone’s lips?
Sancho was only two years old when Wayne Rooney made his England debutGetty Images
After his impressive cameo against Croatia in the Nations League last month, Sancho has gone from strength to strength playing in a total of 17 games already this season for Dortmund.
The former Manchester City winger has scored five goals and provided eight assists in all competitions for his club, meaning this isn’t a case of Southgate rigidly sticking to his principle of promoting youth just for the sake of it.
Sancho is in the squad on merit, and his excellent form means he could arguably be starting for England ahead of the likes of Jesse Lingard, Dele Alli and Marcus Rashford if the first game of Euro 2020 was tomorrow.
How would Southgate get the best out of the wonderkid?
Sancho has been making huge strides at Borussia DortmundGetty Images
The sight of him instilling fear into the legs of Bayern Munich and Germany’s defensive stalwart Mats Hummels last weekend means a starting berth against the lesser lights of USA wouldn’t represent being thrown in at the deep end. He has already impressed by taking the plunge of heading abroad, and Southgate is impressed by his attitude.
But there is an argument that Sancho would be better utilised from the bench against the USA’s tiring defence. Whereas Bayern Munich were on the front foot in a helter-skelter clash at the Westfalenstadion, USA interim manager Dave Sarachan is likely to set his side up more defensively.
The space in which Sancho would ordinarily thrive in will be limited by the likelihood of the American’s deploying a low backline, but should England break the deadlock early on Thursday night, Sancho would excel with the extra space afforded by the USA’s need to come out and attack.
Sancho is benefiting from being part of a Dortmund side that is currently four points clear at the top of the Bundesliga under Lucien Favre, and was part of an England squad that won 3-2 against Spain in Seville last month.
It means his second senior call-up to a squad that is similarly high in confidence was a no-brainer, but the expectation now is that he can continue his ascent in front of what is expected to be a crowd of around 65,000 at Wembley.
So where would Sancho play?
Gareth Southgate could play Sancho on the right of a three-pronged attackGetty Images
There has been a clamour to reward Callum Wilson for his excellent displays with Bournemouth, and the striker has benefited from having the pace of Ryan Fraser and skill of David Brooks providing him with opportunities.
Sancho is Fraser and Brooks rolled into one, and the Cherries striker would surely relish the chance to play down the centre, flanked either side by Raheem Sterling and either Marcus Rashford or Sancho.
Southgate is likely to go with the same front three which defeated Spain when Croatia are the visitors to Wembley on Sunday – with Harry Kane up front – but the USA offers Southgate an opportunity to look at the talent bubbling beneath his Plan A.
Sancho got 12 minutes against Croatia but he is set for significantly more against USAPA Sport
Blooding age-level players has been the hallmark of Southgate’s two-year tenure, and whereas the past has seen managers told to handle precocious talent with care, it was Rooney who highlighted the current England manager’s ‘fearlessness’ when it comes to putting faith in the next generation.
Southgate will be determined to finish top of his Nations League group, but he will not have lost sight of the bigger picture, and the longer-term objective of preparing for the next European Championships in the best possible fashion.
International friendlies where nothing is at stake are now so few and far between that Thursday night is the perfect opportunity to see if Sancho can reproduce his scintillating displays in the white of England. With the Croatia fixture the priority, this is chance for Southgate to experiment, and Sancho serves to gain from the experience.
One chapter closes just as another one opens. Sancho was a month short of his third birthday when Rooney made his debut back in February 2003, and it is the presence of the talented teenager that will lift the bolstered home crowd just as much as the emotional farewell for the country’s all-time leading goalscorer.