Jadon Sancho’s London homecoming started promisingly but ended in disappointment. Nick Wright was at Wembley to assess his performance.
“Hopefully I can show London people what I’m about,” said Jadon Sancho earlier this week.
The 18-year-old had been looking forward to his homecoming. And in a thrilling season in which he has established himself as one of Europe’s most exciting young players at Borussia Dortmund, he wasn’t the only one. It was billed as a night for him to show just how far he has come since swapping England for Germany.
When he looks back over what is sure to be a brilliant career, however, this February evening in north west London will not stand out. In an extraordinary second half, Tottenham simply blew Dortmund’s young side away – all but ending this Champions League tie as a contest. Sancho, who came into the game on a wave of optimism, could do little to stop it.
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For 45 minutes, though, it looked like it would be a very different story.
Mauricio Pochettino knew what to expect from Sancho – he admitted to tracking him since his Manchester City days before the game – so it was perhaps no surprise that he employed extra measures to contain him at Wembley, with Toby Alderweireld moving to the left of Tottenham’s back three to provide support for makeshift wing-back Jan Vertonghen.
Typically, though, Sancho appeared unfazed by the prospect of facing two experienced internationals with a combined age more than three times his own. His early touches – and there were plenty of them – were cool and composed. He stayed wide to stretch the play at times, but more often he could be seen darting diagonally towards goal.
He almost found himself through on goal from one such run in the 16th minute, but a heavy touch from Mahmoud Dahoud’s first-time pass allowed Alderweireld to recover.
It was a missed opportunity, but soon afterwards there was a first glimpse of his incredible footwork. Once again, Dahoud provided the pass to release him, but this time the man charged with getting across to cover was Davinson Sanchez. Sancho turned the Colombian inside out. Fortunately for Spurs, his low cross was met by a white shirt rather than a yellow one.
Dortmund were on top and Sancho was involved in almost every attack. At one point he nicked the ball off the toes of Harry Winks deep in Spurs territory, allowing Axel Witsel to test Hugo Lloris from range. On another occasion he was unfortunate not to win a free-kick 25 yards from goal after being tripped by Sanchez following another driving run from the right flank.
The only thing Sancho’s first-half performance was lacking was some end product but he provided the perfect opportunity moments before the break, taking a corner short and working the ball back onto his right foot before clipping a delicious cross to the far post. Dan-Axel Zagadou rose above Juan Foyth but made a mess of the header, allowing Lloris to make an athletic save.
It might have been a different game had Zagadou put that chance away and it might also have been a different kind of night for Sancho. The 18-year-old had been one of the best players on the pitch in the first half but the game changed completely from the moment Heung-Min Son put Spurs ahead just two minutes after the break.
Having torn into Tottenham’s left flank in the first half, Sancho suddenly found himself being pushed in the opposite direction. Vertonghen, previously a potential weak link, was suddenly charging forwards and causing havoc. His cross for Son’s opener was outstanding and there was another not long afterwards. Sancho raced back but couldn’t get close enough to close it down.
That cross came to nothing, but with Sancho hovering up field as Dortmund hoped for an away goal, Vertonghen soon made his advanced positioning count, belting home Serge Aurier’s centre to double Tottenham’s advantage in the 83rd minute. Wembley exploded for a third time when Fernando Llorente glanced home Christian Eriksen’s cross soon afterwards.
Sancho was substituted after that, leaving the field having barely had a touch in the second half. In many ways, his performance typified Dortmund’s as a whole. It started so full of promise but petered out after the break and ended in bitter disappointment. There were flashes of his undoubted talent, but this was not the homecoming he envisaged.