In the summer transfer window of 2020 alone, Manchester United have bought a dozen players under the age of 19 years old while only 3 – Van De Beek, Cavani and Telles – were above that age. This clear shift in focus of United’s transfer strategy is nothing short of a youth revolution with the guidance of Nicky Butt. What’s even more impressive is nabbing these wonderkids from big clubs like Manchester City’s Charlie McNeill, Barcelona’s Marc Jurado, Atletico Madrid’s Alejandro Garnacho – and today’s focus – Real Madrid’s Alvaro Fernandez Carreras. We analyse what the gifted left-back brings to the table.
Alvaro was born on 3rd March, 2003 in Mallorca which makes him 17 years old currently. Having spent his development years at Racing de Ferrol from 2007 to 2012, it was his stint at Deportivo de La Coruna for the following 5 years that caught the eye of the top Spanish clubs. He won numerous trophies and awards in this period like the Galo cup in 2014, but it was his Galician Championship win with Deportivo in 2017 where he caught the eye of many scouts with impressive displays. Carreras’ talent was clear to see even at the age of 14, and it wasn’t just Real who looked to bring him in from Deportivo at the end of the 16/17 season. Rivals Barcelona were also keen, but Los Blancos were able to convince him to move to the capital instead. Since then, Carreras has played for Real’s U15, U16 and U17 sides over three exciting years and was considered one of the most exciting young talents at the club. He was part of a select group of young players that Real Madrid had very high hopes for, alongside Bruno Iglesias and Israel Salazar. One of the major factors that saw Alvaro’s development suffer in the 19/20 season was Miguel Gutierrez, who is a left-back like Alvaro, and helped Real Madrid win the UEFA Youth League last season. Miguel was training with Zinedine Zidane’s senior Real Madrid team towards the end of last season and has continued to do so this term. With the senior team packed with many good options at left-back and his peer Miguel next-in-line at his age bracket, Alvaro decided his time with Los Blancos was up.
Usually sporting a no. 3 on his back, Fernandez is an attacking left-back who looks to get forward and support attacks whenever possible. Using his speed, he enjoys making dangerous runs down the left wing, adept at linking up well with those ahead of him. But he is equally capable of coming in-field to strengthen numbers in central midfield, capable of moving around and contributing in build-up play. Check out an example here of his ability to drift in midfield and score himself, with technique that would look at home with a pure attacking midfielder. His ability to contribute in different ways going forward makes him a dangerous and unpredictable opponent, while his positional awareness to get back in shape is extremely impressive for someone so young. While Carreras is naturally a very attacking full-back, he is more than capable of being physical on the pitch. Not only is he a threat in the air – thanks to 6’ plus athletic and sturdy build – he’s also combative in one-on-one situations, and isn’t afraid to muscle his opponents off the ball. His reading of the game is impressive too, and these are all qualities that are likely to improve as he gets more match experience under his belt. Alvaro’s unpredictable dribbling is intensified thanks to his two-footedness. His attacking awareness, positive movement and technical expertise make him a reliable goal threat like showcased here.
Though he looks eerily similar to Sergio Ramos thanks to his hairstyle and build, there are more similarities between Alvaro and Marcelo in their style of play – particularly when going forward. The Brazilian has built up a reputation over the years as being one of the world’s most energetic full-backs, making lung-busting overlapping runs to unlock a defence. On Real Madrid’s official website, it is noted that Fernandez’s ‘reference’ is Marcelo – and the teenager plays with a similar intensity and energy as his idol. Defensively, though, he appears to be a little more switched on than Marcelo – who we all know has a tendency to be out of position because he’s caught up field. Fernandez stands out from his young peers thanks to his technical qualities, intelligence on the field and difficulty to beat one-on-one. If United are keen on bolstering their squad with a well-rounded left-back, he promises to be a solution in the near future.
As one of the most exciting young prospects in Real’s academy, it was hardly a surprise that a number of clubs from around Europe began to take notice of Fernandez’s contract situation earlier this year. However, AS reported back in May 2020 that it was actually Manchester United and Manchester City who were the most interested in the youngster. They both sent scouts out on numerous occasions to watch Alvaro and were impressed with what they saw. However, it is the red half of Manchester who look to have got the deal done. Real were keen to keep hold of Carreras, but United’s ‘sports project’ is said to have appealed more to him. Fernandez failed to agree contract terms with Los Blancos and became a free agent on June 30, 2020. He issued a statement on Instagram, confirming that he’ll be leaving Real Madrid and said that it was not an easy decision. He thanked his coaches who have worked with him over the past three years, mentioned that his stay at Real Madrid made him a better footballer and a better person,and concluded that it was time to say goodbye and take another path in his football career to continue his dream.
Alvaro is said to have agreed a four-year deal with United and a recent report from AS suggested Real Madrid coaches have expressed regret at Fernandez’s exit and feel United have a real talent on their hands. Sources claim: “Alvaro is a footballer with a great future who has been hurt by having Miguel Gutierrez in front of him. But the conditions are there for him to do well in England, and his pace and center of gravity will be admired.” It should also be noted that Real Madrid do not have a buyback clause to sign Fernandez in the future, like they tried to inflict on United in the summer when offering Sergio Reguilon.
Settling in & What next
Carreras made his friendly debut for United on Sept 27 for the U23s and had an impressive showing scoring one goal and running the left flank with attacking flair and discipline. His goal was an exciting announcement showcasing what he was all about as he bombed forward to support the attack and opportunistically cut in before blasting in a top-corner shot with his right foot that would make anyone think twice about what his dominant foot actually is. He made his official debut for the U23s on Oct 18th and then played in the U23s win over Everton in the Premier League 2 in the last week of October, showcasing his well-rounded qualities in both games.
Though he has joined the club’s youth side initially, Alvaro could be integrated into the first team should injuries strike down the Red Devils’ senior options. Compared to his peers, Alvaro’s intelligence and defensive stability make him a very attractive proposition to promote to the senior team after a period of settling in. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say he could be the closest to a first team opportunity among the 16-17 year olds – like Charlie McNeill, Joe Hugill and Willy Kambwala – that the Devils have signed this summer. The 18 year old prospects, Pellistri and Amad Traore are clearly meant to feature for the first team sooner. But given United’s lack of any prospects in Alvaro’s position, it won’t be a surprise to see the youngster knock on the senior team door soon, if he excels for the U23s this season.
While the arrival of Donny van de Beek, Edinson Cavani and Amad Diallo Traore caused a considerable stir, it is Manchester United’s youth recruitment drive that has grabbed the headlines on multiple occasions this summer. With almost a dozen youth signings to boast of, the acquisition of winger Alejandro Garnacho Ferreyra from Atletico Madrid represents United’s third successive raid on the Spanish market this window following the capture of teenagers Marc Jurado from Barcelona and Alvaro Fernandez from Real Madrid. We take a look at the highly-rated Spanish winger in the latest of our wonderkid scout series.
Born in Getafe in July 2004, Alejandro Garnacho is one of Atletico Madrid’s most highly-rated prospects. He has been with Atletico since 2015, and is said to be the ‘jewel’ of the club’s academy. Described as a ‘goalscoring machine’ by Marca, from a very young age itself, Garnacho’s potential has seen him primed for the top. In 2016, whilst playing for Atletico’s Infantil B, he was Spain’s top scorer at the age of 12 – destroying opposition defences with his natural knack for finding the back of the net. In the 19/20 season, he found himself enjoying run-outs for Atletico’s U19 team despite only being 16 years old.
Alejandro is obsessed with Cristiano Ronaldo, and even wears the same shirt number – No. 7. The comparisons do not end there either with Garnacho’s playing style and movement closely related to Cristiano Ronaldo as well. Garnacho is predominantly a right-footed winger who plays on the left wing, but is comfortable on his left foot as well, allowing him that versatility when one-on-one with the goalkeeper. While he prefers attacking from the left, he is equally adept at playing as a striker, behind the striker and on the right wing. Blessed with a flawless technique, Garnacho boasts attributes including close ball control that make it difficult for defenders to rob the ball off him. The Madrid-born teenager is technically gifted and has superb dribbling ability, making him a nightmare to defend against when he’s running at opposition’s backlines.
While he is able to use his quick feet to beat defenders and round goalkeepers with ease, the teenager also has the knack of finding himself in the right spot at the right time, always hungry to pick up the scraps in front of goal. In the penalty area he’s intuitive and clinical, preferring to shift the ball onto his right foot before calmly slotting the ball home. A real predator in front of goal, Garnacho is also adept at finding space in the penalty box, and is an instinctive poacher.
Most of Garnacho’s goals are textbook modern winger executions cutting in from either wing and blasting or placing his shot in a corner of the goal with his opposite foot. He also has a remarkable rate of dribbling around the goalkeeper and finishing when one-on-one showcasing his confidence, composure and dribbling ability. Any game watching Alejandro isn’t complete without bearing witness to some stepovers, nutmegs, drag-backs, double touches and body feints as the wonderkid loves taking on and often humiliating his defensive counterpart while also dribbling with purpose towards goal. Like his idol, he loves putting on a show. The major weaknesses one can identify in Garnacho’s game are natural for a player with such flair and attacking purpose. His defensive contributions like tracking back and positioning need work but that is to be expected from a 16-year-old winger who has all the time in the world to work on them and challenge for a first team spot.
Transfer Saga & Settling in
Garnacho turned 16 in July 2020, which meant he was able to discuss deals with other clubs, and it had been widely reported that Atletico did everything they could to keep their star man. The Red Devils are said to have fought off Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund to secure Garnacho’s signature. Moving to Old Trafford, and emulating his hero Ronaldo was said to be a deciding factor in his decision to move. Garnacho penned a five-year deal with the Premier League giants over the summer window. And all it costed United was a compensation package for his training and development.
‘Atlético de Madrid have lost a promising youngster after United’s great work in Spain, where they have already raided Madrid, Barça and Atleti,’ AS lamented. ‘Despite this loss, Atlético has always managed to retain great homegrown players who receive offers from foreign teams, who ‘take advantage’ of the few laws that protect Spanish quarries so as not to lose talents so easily.
After being officially announced by Manchester United on October 2nd, which was a Tuesday, Garacho was named in the matchday squad for the U18 side on the following Saturday itself. The attacker came off the bench on a rain-drenched afternoon at Manchester City’s training complex as United took on their neighbours in the U18 derby. It was a real ‘welcome to Manchester’ moment for the 16-year-old. Garnacho played the final 15 minutes as United chased an equaliser, having gone 2-1 down. He had one chance from a difficult wide position which he struck with power, but it was rising and went over the bar. United lost the game, but Alejandro impressed. He looked confident, cutting in from the left, and the young forward was pleased to get some action in before the break. He sent a message expressing how excited he was to sign for United and make his debut.
Alejandro Garnacho scored two goals in the last week of October for Manchester United’s U17 side. The Spanish teenager was part of an U17 side taking on Wigan in the re-formatted Premier League Cup. One of his goals included this thunderbolt of a strike from the edge of the box which left the Latics ‘keeper with no chance.United lost the game 3-2, a product of holding many eligible players back for the FA Youth Cup game. Garnacho has made two substitute appearances for the U18s so far. This was his first competitive academy start, and a two-goal return is pretty impressive. Garnacho reportedly started in a closed-door friendly in an attack consisting of Joe Hugill, Charlie McNeill and Hoogewerf against Salford last week which United won 5-2 but reports are still unconfirmed.
The Spaniard certainly needs more time and experience before making a gradual transition to senior men’s football, but his prolific youth record in Spain suggests that he has all the raw materials to evolve into a top-quality striker moving forward. There is plenty of competition in the U18s, with Charlie McNeill and Joe Hugill signing this summer, and Dillon Hoogewerf, Mateo Mejia and Noam Emeran all signing in 2019. With United’s first team strikeforce packed with goals too, there is plenty of reason to be optimistic right now about the future. Given the potential of these youngsters and the opportunity and development the Red Devils seem to want to give to their academy players, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a few of these names don the jersey for the main team in a few years time.
Manchester United haven’t been very active in the business of wonderkids over the past two decades, which other top teams like Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund seem to thrive on – either in terms of performance or profitability, or both. A drastic change in United’s academy project has seen Nicky Butt lead the Devils into a new era of focus on academy youngsters and buying high potential players for the same. Coupled with manager Ole gunnar Solskjaer’s trust in youth and the academy setup, this summer has already seen the club renew contracts for Harvey Neville, Tahith Chong, Greenwood, Brandon Williams, James Garner, Ethan Laird, and Dylan Levitt while recruiting fresh talent in the forms of Isak Hansen-Aarøen from Tromso, Alvaro Rodrigues from Real Madrid’s academy, Radek Vitek from Olomouc, Joe Hugill from Sunderland and Marc Jurado from Barcelona’s famed La Masia.
Marc Jurado is only the second player in United’s history to have been signed from FC Barcelona’s youth academy and the first ended up being a decent player. Gerard Pique could not make it at the club but went on to become one of the world’s top defenders. Marc Jurado was born the same year Pique arrived at United in 2004. Now 16 years old, he arrives at Old Trafford aiming to make a bigger mark than his predecessor.
Jurado was born in Sabadell, a town 18 miles from Barcelona, on April 13, 2004,. He played for his local club, CF Can Rull, from the age of four to seven before impressing enough to be picked up by FC Barcelona’s La Masia academy. He has been playing for the youth team for the past nine years. In his second season for Barcelona, he recorded the fastest goal for the FCB Benjamin C side (Under-10s) as he stole the ball straight from kick-off, dribbled past two UD Viladecans defenders before coolly slotting past the keeper to score within five seconds. This is also the record for the fastest goal at any youth level at Barcelona. His crowning moment for FCB Infantil A (Under-12s) came as he scored in a 2-0 win against fierce rivals Real Madrid in the Mediterranean International Cup 2016 tournament. He has been a prominent figure in Barcelona’s Cadet A (Under-16) side and was due to be promoted to the Juvenil B (Under-17) for the 20/21 campaign.
Playing Style: When it comes to playing style, Jurado is your quintessential modern right-back, bombing forward with speed and skill to overlap and support the attack. Most consistently associated with jersey #2, the first noticeable aspect of Jurado is his immense speed and acceleration which he uses aggressively to dribble past players and take up good attacking positions on the right side of the pitch. He has a huge reputation as a capable attacker having once scored 6 goals in a season for FCB Cadete B. Technically strong, Jurado fits the usual La Masia graduate pattern of being very adept at passing, link-up play and ball control while he is no slacker in his defensive duties utilizing intense pace and stamina to get back in position and mark wingers. Jurado loves playing 1-2s to burst past opposition often linking up with the right sided attacker or central midfielder for a classic give-and-go. Armed with a very capable left foot, Jurado also has a penchant to cut inside and release the opposite fullback or dribble in central areas himself towards the opposition box which explains the occasional goal he scores and offers a more unpredictable dynamic to his attacking play. A few of his goals have come via headers and volleys from corners indicating his value as a set-piece threat. He has been deployed mostly as a right back but has also been used as a right winger on some occasions to utilize his attacking traits.
Transfer Saga: Barcelona had no intention of letting Jurado go as they secured Ansu Fati, Ilaix Moriba, Pablo Paez and Ilias before offering a lucrative 3-year contract, worth up to €300,000 per year, to Jurado to convince him to stay as well. They viewed Jurado as a key part of their promising generation of youngsters. But Jurado was certain he wanted to leave for better opportunities which probably says a lot about the current condition of the Blaugrana in terms of giving chances to academy graduates in the main squad. They have lost a few youngsters in recent years who have opted to try their luck abroad instead. It also says a lot about the great recent work Nicky Butt and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer have been doing in terms of youth promotion. Reports first emerged in April 2020 suggesting United had contacted Barcelona regarding Jurado and their pursuit worked soon after as they received the confirmation of Jurado soon after.
“It is never easy to leave the team that has given you everything,” Jurado wrote on his official Instagram account to confirm his departure. “FC Barcelona has been my second home, my second family, where I have trained as a player but also as a person. Today I have to say goodbye but not before thanking each of the people who have helped me since I started in 2011. I have been fortunate to share my passion with a fantastic generation with whom I will always be linked. We started as children who only wanted to run after the ball and I said goodbye, nine years later, being able to call them friends. Only we know the immense luck we have had with all the coaches who have trained us and helped us to continue fulfilling our dreams.”
What next? His contract expired on June 30, 2020 with the Red devils having to pay a compensation fee of £175,000 for the youngster. Jurado shared an image of his departure gate ahead of his flight to Manchester on 27th August with a caption “A new dream is coming.”. The pacey defender was seen strolling through Manchester in a denim jacket and jeans post which he self-isolated for 14 days before joining training. Jurado has linked up with the Manchester United Under-18 side for the 20/21 season and is already off to a bright start having scored in the 2-1 friendly win against West Brom U18 earlier this month. Jurado’s path to the main team won’t be easy with Aaron Wan Bissaka (22 years old), Fosu Mensah (22 years old), Diogo Dalot (21 years old) and Ethan Laird (19 years old) seemingly ahead of him in the pecking order. But with Dalot’s long-term future up in the balance given his recent loan to AC Milan, Fosu-Mensah’s injury concerns, Laird yet to make his senior debut and manager Ole’s heavy trust in the academy, Jurado will know he has the time and opportunity to make a mark for the reserves first and then make the step up in a few years.
It was always going to be an uphill battle planning transfers for the summer window, given the financial impact of COVID-19 on most football clubs. To think a powerful club like Real Madrid, usually in the top 3 in the Forbes’ list of most valuable clubs, made zero signings this summer for the first time in 40 years and still had to sell for £88.65m to maintain finances, makes you realise how tough it has been all around. But among all the doom and gloom, a few clubs have had the opportunity to make shrewd transfers and build a good platform for their manager to achieve his aims while keeping an eye on the bank balance. We highlight 5 of these clubs who have had a praise-worthy 2020 summer window.
The Premier League clubs have had it better than the rest of Europe when it comes to the financial burdens due to COVID. The Premier League clubs together spent a whopping €1.37 Billion with a net spend of €892.05 million this summer. But when it comes to gaining high value for deals and creating a competent team to support their manager, nobody did it better than Everton. The Blues bought a completely new midfield in workhorses Allan and Doucoure and creative genius James Rodriguez, who had his best spell under Carlo Ancelotti in Real Madrid. The manager-player duo has reconnected to great effect with James starting the season strong with 3 goals and 2 assists already to his name. Manager Ancelotti is enjoying great performances from the 3 midfielders, an area where Everton have been desperately lacking in for many years. In addition to that, the shrewd acquisition of Ben Godfrey has gone unnoticed. A high potential defender, he is one player who can fix the back line issues that have plagued the Merseyside club in recent years. Coupled with the in-form strikers, the Italian manager now boasts of a very competent squad that already sits at the top of the table with 4 wins in 4 games. All this while letting go of many deadwood players, Everton have managed to streamline their squad and give their manager a great platform to build on. A top 4 finish? The dream is on!
It was always going to be interesting to see how Stade Rennais approached the summer transfer window. The French club finished 3rd in Ligue 1 last season – the highest in the club’s history. Suddenly faced with Champions League football and a challenge to follow up with a good league season, the onus was on Rennais to ace the transfer window. And that’s exactly what they did. Two extremely talented young wingers for either side in Doku and Terrier will have fans super-excited while the signing of Guirassy completes a new look attack. Using the lure of Champions League football, the club was able to loan in unwanted but talented stars, Rugani and Dalbert, who will be looking to prove themselves. Stade Rennais was able to capitalize on the big-spending desperation of Premier clubs Chelsea and Leeds by selling Mendy and Raphinha for a combined £38m. The shrewd capture of Gomis serves as a good GK replacement. All in all, the club sold well, bought players to fill in all the gaps and developed bench strength to compete in multiple competitions, all while rounding off a net spend of just £19m – a masterclass window!
It won’t be ridiculous to say that Bayern Munich would make the top 5 clubs that nailed the transfer window every year in recent times. The Bavarians are well-run and have been showing astute planning and execution in the transfer market for a few years now and this summer was no less. The long-term strategy to acquire Leroy Sane for good value paid off this window. The Germans were able to bid goodbye to loanees Coutinho and Perisic who took care of the left-wing slot last season and finally welcomed one of Europe’s exciting wingers for just £40.5m. Coupled with the in-form Lewandowski and Gnabry, this puts Bayern’s attack among the best in Europe now. While they had to let go of superstar Thiago to Liverpool, they more than made up for it by acquiring one of Europe’s brightest deep-lying playmaker prospects for a measly £8.10m (not including add-ons). Marc Roca’s capture could quite possibly be the deal of the window and was included in our top 5 under-the-radar deals of the window as well. Trading a 29 year old want-away for a 23 year old potential star is exactly the kind of smart move the Bavarians are known for. Coupled with the existing high-performing midfield duo of Kimmich and Goretzka and the loan-in of wonderkid Tiago Dantas, Bayern now have enough quality midfield depth to the point where they could let go of Cuisance on loan for game time. The signing of Tanguy from PSG represents another insanely smart grab of one of Europe’s talented defender wonderkids for no fee at all. With backup loan-ins for Choupo Moting and Costa, the Bavarians seem to have made a Champions League winning squad seem stronger than before – all for a modest net spend of £36m. Announce them as the champions of the 2020 transfer window as well, please!
It has been a tougher period for La Liga teams compared to the others in the top 5 leagues. Put together, La Liga clubs spent €411.80m in the window which is lesser than what Serie A and Ligue 1 clubs spent and less than 1/3rd of the Premier League clubs. They were also the only league in the top 5 to close with a positive net spend (€82.45m profit) showing how there just wasn’t enough money to spend for Spanish teams this summer. But, in crisis comes opportunity and the yellow submarine danced around the pitfalls of the summer window impressively. They had to bid goodbye to the ageing midfield duo of Cazorla and Bruno but picked up highly impressive replacements in Coquelin and Parejo. Taking advantage of the turmoil at Valencia, Villareal acquired one of Europe’s best playmakers for free. Coupled with the very smart loan-ins of Foyth and Kubo and high-value sales of Ekambi, Unal and Gonzalez, Villareal were able to round up their window with just a £5.6m net spend while improving a squad that finished 5th last season. Finance students,take notes!
RB Leipzig are the only club in this list to churn out a negative spend i.e. profit based on their summer activity. Bundesliga clubs have had it rough due to COVID and together spent the least among the top 5 leagues with a total spend of €323.20 million. They sold for almost the same amount, roughly breaking even for the window. In such conditions, RBL were able to generate immense revenue from their most valuable asset in Timo Werner who was the 7th most expensive transfer of the 2020 summer window. Losing Timo and Schick upfront meant a need for firepower and RBL delivered replacements in the form of Sorloth who comes from the back of a strong goal-scoring season and the highly-rated duo of Hwang and Kluivert. With the rest comprising loan deals, they have managed to generate an important £21.15m without letting the team quality suffer. The club has started strong this season, already racing to the top of the table, and look on course to finish close to their previous season’s strong 3rd palace finish. A profitable window without letting squad quality suffer – now that’s business!
There is one name which is always on the tongues of the Manchester United fanbase – “Jadon Sancho”. The charismatic winger has been one of the most consistent players in the German Bundesliga ever since he made his senior team debut in front of the famed “Yellow Wall” of Borussia Dortmund. He may be just 20 years of age but he is already at the top of his game at such a tender age, creating havoc from the right wing under Lucien Favre, the manager who is instrumental in giving him a run of games at his new position. Sancho has made the position his own and there is no looking back for the London-born Jadon who started his football journey at now-relegated Watford, and then jumping ship to Manchester City before fate brought him across the English Channel right into the heart of Ruhr Valley in Germany.
A full time England International, the 20-year-old adaptive hardworking winger is dedicated to the project. Dubbed a “generational talent” second only to wonderkid Kylian Mbappe, Sancho ticks all the boxes for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s cultural rebuild at Manchester United and there is a reason why the red devils are ready to spend a huge sum of money even in a post-Covid market which has derailed the financial stability of even the elite clubs. But the past few days have resulted in a widely-reported ‘impasse’ over the transfer business between the two clubs with a good amount of difference in what the English club is offering and what amount the German club ideally wants for their gem – as reported by famous transfer expert, Fabrizio Romano, who plies his trade for Sky Italia and The Guardian.
With Manchester United passing the stage 1 of their cultural rebuild with flying colours, now comes the stage 2- to bring in quality and remove the deadwood in order to make space for future additions- which can be brought from academy or any other quality signing according to the need and demand of the manager. But with serious question over Jadon Sancho deal looming over and an already shortened transfer market coupled with a post Covid scenario bringing more instability when it comes to financial aspects of running a football club, club must bring to use their state of the art Data Analytics team and scouting network to look for alternatives if they plan to actually cut the gap between their arch rivals: Manchester City and Liverpool FC who actually have been ruling the domestic scene for quite a while with Liverpool even finding success on Continental Stage.
In this article we will cover 5 alternatives for Jadon Sancho, giving you a step-by-step detailed analysis using data to explain how these exciting alternatives can actually replicate the output Jadon can deliver.
Why are United chasing Jadon Sancho?
But before we actually come to the alternatives, an intricate detail on The Man, The Myth, The Legend (soon I hope) is needed. With the sudden emergence of Mason Greenwood, a burst in the output of both Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial – all thanks to Ole releasing the shackles which were present under previous managers – and summer signing Daniel James’ impressive first half of the season, Manchester United look like a deadly attacking force – but in phases. The left wing has been the main source of creativity for Manchester United with 41.45% of assists in the Premier League coming from that side. Although the red devils have a relatively good output from the right flank (a position lacking in quality since the Sir Alex era) with 34.77% of assists coming from that side (16 assists), most of these have been courtesy Daniel James first half season burst in what was his second season at senior level and first in the Premier League, that too at a club of Manchester United’s prestige. The lack of genuine quality and injuries to players capable of playing in the same position saw Daniel James being over-utilized and his performances fizzling out over the course of the season. Doubts over his productivity in the final third also remain with many sub-par games from the Welshman like the Manchester Derby at Old Trafford.
(chance creation outlets- Credits to Laurie Whitwell of The Athletic)
This is where Jadon Sancho comes in, bringing in much needed quality and giving an “unpredictability” to Solskjaer’s team in the attacking department which may just prove to be the missing link in Manchester United’s long-lost attacking identity over the years. Jadon not only lights up the stadium with his unpredictability and dexterity but also puts up pretty good numbers in the defensive aspect of his game, recording an average of 2 interceptions and 3.4 recoveries per 90 minutes in the Bundesliga as compared to Marcus Rashford’s 1.8 interceptions and 2.1 recoveries per 90 minutes. He will be an asset to any team which has marauding fullbacks and promises to improve creativity in the final third. Sancho is an excellent ball-carrier and capable of opening up chances through his passing with 7.7 dribbles completed per 90 minutes at a 48.6% success rate averaging 3.6 “progressive runs” (10 metre dashes in the opposition half).
(Jadon Sancho’s Heatmap in Bundesliga- from Wyscout)
(Marcus Rashford’s heatmap in Premier League- from Wyscout)
(Jadon Sancho’s successful take-ons in Champions League)
Now we will look at our 5 alternate choices who can replicate such behemoth numbers and bring similar quality to Manchester United and help them in their quest to reach back on the “Perch”
1. Federico Chiesa (ACF Fiorentina)
Son of famed Italian footballer Enrico Chiesa, a cult icon at Stadio Artemio Franchi who enjoyed good spells with Parma and Sampdoria, Federico Chiesa may just be on the verge of replicating his father on the pitch and maybe even do better than him over the course of his career. As compared to his father who played as a striker, Federico plies his trade at right wing and is also capable of playing on the left wing, where he has played for the Azzuri at youth and senior level. He can also pull off the ‘advanced forward’ role if needed. Like Jadon Sancho, Federico Chiesa also brings a good amount of unpredictability and flair which the Norwegian manager craves for in his forward line. Questions have been raised over Chiesa’s productivity in the final third, but most of it has been due to the volatile environment around the “La Viola”, with many managerial changes over a short period. This has curtailed the Italian’s growth to an extent but the potential is still there to be seen.
Federico Chiesa averages a NPxG+xA (non penalty expected goal and assist) per 90 minutes of 0.52 despite various role changes. The winger averages a 3.58 SCA (Shot Creating Actions) per 90 minutes along with a 0.48 GCA (Goal Creating Action) per 90. When it comes to possession, the 22-year old is on the receiving end of passes for 72.9% of the number of passes attempted by the team on an average over 90 minutes, meaning majority of the game at Fiorentina runs through him. This is also supported by the fact that the xG (expected goals) remains at 44 when he is on the pitch but drops to 35.1 when he isn’t playing, bringing a huge positive of +8.9. This positive change in xG per 90 accounts to 0.30 . With Fiorentina dropping hints in the past that they can part ways with their ‘wonderkid’ for a sum above €40 million mark, he may prove to be a good alternative to Jadon Sancho. Some coaching and tactical consistency can further improve Chiesa’s underlying numbers and unleash his full potential.
Tactical fitment: 10/10
Cultural fitment: 8/10
Devil’s DNA priority score: 9/10
2. Milot Rashica (SV Werder Bremen)
The Kosovo International has been a beacon of light in these dark and gloomy days at the Northern Germany club, saving them from near relegation for 2 seasons in a row now. Starting his career at Vitesse Arnhem and then jumping ship to the greener pastures of the Bundesliga, Raschica’s direct gameplay, burst of pace coupled with a good eye for a pass and composure in front of goal makes him an asset for any team which relies on fluidic transitions during counter attacks – a certain element observed at Manchester United under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. His 14 G+A contribution last season was equivalent to 45% of the total goals scored by Werder Bremen over the course of the season, which saw them secure their stay in the top division for one more season via a relegation play-off victory against 2. Bundesliga side FC Heidenheim. His contribution alone resulted in Bremen winning more than 50% of their total points tally. It is evident that he can be the clutch player United badly need in the final third. In addition to his clutch gameplay, he brings a lot of energy on the flank bringin explosiveness in the final third and his work done off the ball is impressive too. He averages 16.28 ‘pressure actions’ (which brings about a change in possession) per 90 minutes at a success rate of 31%, with most of these ‘pressure actions’ being applied in the middle of the park. This indicates that he is more efficient in pressing the second or third man – a good asset for any team which wants to execute intense counter-pressing in the middle of the park and release the ball as soon as possible to ball progressing attackers to initiate fluid counter attacks. With a release clause of € 38 million in his current contract, the energy and clutch mentality the 24-year old brings in a team along with his unpredictability in the final third can be an asset for Manchester United in the long term. There is a good chance his numbers will improve with better players around him. Ole’s system can let his potential unravel since he is at a stage in his career where a switch to a bigger team can make his career. Having played most of the current season on the left wing and striker positions, there might be a slight doubt over his ability to play right wing all the time but given his talent and flexibility, we don’t think that should stop him from becoming the Red devils’ right winger for the next few years.
Tactical fitment: 7/10
Cultural fitment: 9/10
Devil’s DNA priority score: 8/10
3. Riccardo Orsolini (Bologna)
This may come as a shock to some but Riccardo Orsolini has been fulfilling his potential ever since he has joined the Northern Italian side, Bologna FC, making his switch a permanent one last season with the Italian side shelling a club record figure of € 14.5 million, continuing the cultural reboot at the club, overseen by Sinisa Mihajlovic, by giving preference to younger players making them one of the youngest squads in Serie A. He falls under the category of a modern day “inside forward”- a left footed forward playing on the right flank looking for opportunities to cut in while giving space to the right back to use the width and make overlaps into good crossing areas – while Orsolini looks to progress the ball more into central areas, looking for either a pass or ‘go for glory.’ The latter usually implies an aesthetic curling goal straight into the top corner – a tool Orsolini favours given his athletic and nimble body. He ranks 5th for players dribbled past in the league and 8th in number of fouls drawn. The 23-year old averages an xG+xA of 0.5 per 90 minutes and his non penalty figure of xG+xA per 90 also stands at 0.5, meaning that he is a massive threat from open play. Orsolini averages a good sum of progressive runs into the final third per 90 minutes, standing at a figure of 150 yards. He has a SGA/90 mins of 3.66 and a GCA/90 of 0.40. The talisman of his team, he ends up at the receiving end of a whopping 82% of the passes during the match, clearly implying he is the fulcrum to Bologna’s attack. If a player can deliver such impressive performances for an underperforming team, imagine the increase in output if he makes a switch to a team which suits his playing style needs and improves the quality of his game too – a win-win situation for all parties if Manchester United are taking notes. Bologna’s sporting director Walter Sabatini claimed this season that Orsolini would cost nothing less than €70M, but with his contract ending in 2022 and Bologna underperforming as a sporting project, he may not cost that much in the current post-covid market.
Tactical fitment: 8/10
Cultural fitment: 7/10
Devil’s DNA priority score: 8/10
4. Calvin Stengs (AZ Alkmaar)
A product of the famed AZ Alkmaar academy, Calvin Stengs has made his breakthrough at first team level this season with the young attacking trio of Oussama Idrissi, Myron Boadu and Stengs winning laurels in their native Netherlands and also making a name at the continental stage, going from the qualifying rounds to delivering impressive performances in the Group Stages of Europa League – with Stengs being the star performer in their 0-0 draw against Manchester United, described as being a ‘thorn in the bush’ on the right flank. The 21-year old averages a non penalty xG+xA of 0.5 meaning he is a good threat from open play which is pretty evident from the ‘offensive actions’ which has won his team an average of 2.23 points/match (since Eredivisie was cancelled due to Covid-19 pandemic so the average has taken for 25 matches – the amount of matches AZ Alkmaar had played till 12th March). Technically sound, nimble, athletic, good both on and off the ball and a good eye for a pass- Calvin Stengs terrorized the defences in Eredivisie which kept the young AZ Alkmaar side; coached by a charismatic Arne Slot, in contention of a historic league title before KVNB declared the league null and void due to Covid-19 pandemic. With a good track record of Dutch players in both England and Manchester United, this Flying Dutchman can again dock on the shores of England and do justice to his talent for a relatively cheaper price.
Tactical fitment: 7/10
Cultural fitment: 7/10
Devil’s DNA priority score: 7/10
5. Viktor Tsygankov (Dynamo Kyiv)
The 22-year old is widely regarded as one of the best talents to come out of Ukraine. The athletic player is equally adept as an ‘advanced forward’ as well as an ‘inside forward’ and even capable of playing the role of an ‘inverted winger’, cutting in from right wing – very similar to his fellow National team Mate, Andriy Yaormalenko. Despite being just 22 years of age, he has accumulated a good experience at the first team level at Dynamo Kyiv, making his debut for the first team as a 17-year-old back in the 2016-17 season. Now a main player at Dynamo, his impressive tally of 14 goals and 5 assists in 27 league matches has helped Dynamo to the runners-up position in Ukranian League, losing to eventual champions and Europa League semi finalists, Shakhtar Donetsk. But Tsygankov had an even better outing on the continental stage, registering 2 goals and 3 assists in 6 matches. His underlying numbers are what set him apart from his team mates as the X-factor of Dynamo Kyiv. A SCA of 31 and GCA of 4 may look a bit less given the small sample size but Viktor did show glimpses of his immense talent against quality sides at European Stage and he has already gained a lot of first team experience at first team level, now is the time for him to move forward and maybe make a big jump in his career which can be a career defining moment for him.
Tactical fitment: 8/10
Cultural fitment: 6/10
Devil’s DNA priority score: 7/10
Honourable Mentions: Ismailla Sarr (Watford) Ralphina (Stade Rennais) Marcel Sabizter (RB Leipzig) Leon Bailey (Bayer Leverkusen) Samuel Chukwueze (Villarreal)
(All the data has been taken from FBREF and Statsbomb. The heatmaps are courtesy Wyscout)