Borussia Dortmund’s season was on the brink of collapsing. They’d crashed out of the Europa League at the hands of Red Bull Salzburg and Hoffenheim’s 5-2 victory over RB Leipzig put Julian Nagelsmann’s side within two points of BVB who, at the time, occupied fourth spot in the Bundesliga – the final Champions League qualification position.
Peter Stöger’s side welcomed Bayer Leverkusen to Signal Iduna Park on Saturday evening knowing a loss would put their participation in Europe’s premier club competition next season in doubt. To make matters worse they were without Michy Batshuayi, the man tasked with replacing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s goals.
Bayer Leverkusen were no doubt full of confidence heading to Dortmund. They had plundered eight goals in their previous two Bundesliga matches – including a 4-1 win at the Red Bull Arena – and had the chance to close the gap on second-placed Schalke to just two points.
However, they returned to the BayArena pointless having witnessed first-hand why Jadon Sancho is considered by many to be one of the best teenagers in world football today.
The former Manchester City academy player put on a show, netting the opener before laying on goals for Maximilian Philipp and Marco Reus in a 4-0 rout for the home side. The 18-year-old is now the youngest English player to find the back of the net in the Bundesliga after calmly stroking the ball past Ramazan Özcan to give his side a 13th-minute lead.
The BVB No.7 looked at home pulling the strings on the left side of a front three. He attempted 11 dribbles, six more than Liverpool transfer target Christian Pulisic, and completed four of those. Only Sokratis and Lukasz Piszczek managed more touches than the English youngster, who also played seven key passes – the same amount as Reus, Julian Weigl and Mario Götze managed as a collective.
1️⃣ Outrageous touch
Jadon Sancho is going to be a serious problem!
18-years-old, the Englishman took the decision to move to Dortmund, he just had his best game for the club ?? pic.twitter.com/t9YqtynBqJ
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) April 22, 2018
For context, this was the first time Dortmund have scored four in a Bundesliga match since the turn of the year. The last time they managed it was when Peter Bosz was at the helm and they surrendered a four goal lead to draw 4-4 with Ruhr rivals Schalke.
One-time Arsenal transfer target Sancho didn’t just have an impact in the final third, either. He finished with two interceptions and made one tackle, proving he didn’t shirk his defensive responsibilities.
Stöger’s decision to start him in such a high-profile match goes a long way to justifying Sancho’s decision to move abroad, and why many believe the Bundesliga is the new home for young British talent, with teams unafraid to give talent an opportunity.
It was only Sancho’s fourth start of the season and it was perhaps BVB’s biggest game of the campaign. Yet the summer signing put in a man-of-the-match performance, with many now looking at him as a potential wildcard for England at this summer’s World Cup.
It’s perhaps premature to even contemplate, but if he finishes the season strongly there will be calls for him to be included in Gareth Southgate’s preliminary 30-man squad for Russia.
Sancho’s decision to move was justified
The former Watford academy player caused a stir in the summer when he walked out of his scholarship deal with Manchester City, turning down a reported £30,000-per-week professional contract, to force a move away from the Etihad after being left behind during a pre-season tour.
Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal were all interested but reports at the time claimed Sancho feared his path to the first team would be blocked, just like it was in Pep Guardiola’s squad.
Then, on deadline day, it was announced he would be moving to Germany in a deal worth £8million. He was given the No.7 jersey, recently vacated by Ousmane Dembélé, and was immediately part of the senior squad. The German outfit looked to manage the youngster so he was able to acclimatise to his new surroundings, and he didn’t make his debut until the end of October – but he caught the eye from the off.
His first start arrived in January and Stöger has given him more minutes over the last few months, easing him in while ensuring there’s not too much responsibility placed on his young shoulders.
But perhaps now it’s time to unleash him on unsuspecting Bundesliga defenders. The battle for a Champions League place is fiercer than ever and Sancho might be the x-factor Die Borussen need to ensure they’re playing in Europe’s elite competition next season.
He might even keep Stöger in the job, with many still yet to be convinced by the interim manager. One thing is for sure, if this one-off becomes the norm Sancho will surpass Pulisic as Dortmund’s most in-demand asset.