England vs Kosovo: Jadon Sancho shines as apprentice to Raheem Sterling’s unstoppable sorcery
Marcus Rashford may be more disciplined, but few players can set a crowd alight like England's teenage winger
The Borussia Dortmund winger got the crowd off their seats in England’s 5-3 victory over Kosovo at St Mary’s. Sterling was again the creative hub of Gareth Southgate’s team but Sancho shared the burden. The 19-year-old even chipped in with two goals, scored in the space of two minutes just before half time. Sterling is almost unplayable unless opposing sides double-up on him – sometimes they even triple-team the Manchester City man. You cannot afford to do that with Sancho on the pitch. He will exploit the freed-up space and beat men. Against a double-edged wing attack like this, no defence can keep its shape.
Kosovo couldn’t. After falling behind early to Valon Berisha’s opening goal – Michael Keane’s assist making it easy for the Lazio forward – England composed themselves. Much of their attacking impetus came from the left flank but Sancho, on the right, was always a threat. This is a confident young man who learnt his trade in the caged pitches of south London. He has an appetite for destruction - he wants to humiliate opponents with flamboyant acts of skill. It has made him one of the hottest properties in Europe.
His display at St Mary’s should ramp up his price. Sancho started brightly, spinning inside, away from his marker, head up, looking for a pass. It was a statement of intent.
Sometimes he can be a bit too bold. Just after Sterling’s equaliser, Sancho took a clearance level with England’s 18-yard line and tried to dribble out, despite the proximity of three Kosovo defenders. The ball rebounded off one of them and went out for a throw. It was just as well because England could not afford another mistake on the edge of their box.
Sancho’s directness is his biggest strength. After a slick interchange on the halfway line, he took off for goal. Although he overran the ball, he followed the pursuit through to put pressure on the goalkeeper. All his energy and appetite were on display.
Sancho has the same knack as Sterling of freezing defenders when he has the ball at his feet. That was vividly illustrated in the area when he shimmied and danced in front of two mesmerised Kosovans before stroking a pass to Ross Barkley for the Chelsea midfielder to curl the ball just wide.
Harry Kane put England in front and suddenly the Three Lions were rampant. Sancho then had the chance to show another component in his character. A Kosovan went down on the halfway line and while his team-mates screamed for England to put the ball out of play, the winger headed goalwards.
He turned Florent Hadergjonaj inside out before banging in a cross from the byline that Mërgim Vojvoda could only bundle into his own net.
The Kosovans were furious and Valon Berisha faced up to Sancho before the restart to give the young man a piece of his mind. Sancho was not intimidated by the Lazio midfielder and gave as good as he got.
His two goals came in a wild two minutes before half time. On each occasion, Sterling grabbed the attention of the entire Kosovo team and while they were watching the 24-year-old, Sancho was lurking on the opposite flank waiting for his moment.
First, Sterling advanced to the edge of the area and sent the ball crossfield to where Sancho waited at the back post. He took two touches and looked to have missed his opportunity but, with a coolness that belies his age, he slotted the ball past Arijanet Muric.
For his next trick, Sterling sped into the area, drew the goalkeeper, shaped to shoot and then flicked the ball to Sancho, who gratefully accepted the chance. During the celebration, the apprentice pointed to the sorcerer in glee but while Sterling may have been the catalyst, it was clear another attacking threat was emerging for England.
Sancho still has a lot to learn. Midway through the first half, the winger switched off when Jordan Pickford got possession from a Kosovo attack and meandered upfield. He was unaware that Trent Alexander-Arnold was in possession on his outside and when he looked inside to see who was carrying the ball, Sancho realised his mistake. He did a quick, embarrassed pirouette and rejoined the play.
That learning process will continue in the Bundesliga and he is bound to see plenty of playing time for England. Manchester United made a serious attempt to sign him during the transfer window but Sancho’s representatives were keen that he develop in a more stable environment than Old Trafford can offer at the moment.
Marcus Rashford gave England more discipline and solidity against Bulgaria on Saturday but, for all the United forward’s strengths, he never set the crowd alight. Sancho does that. Southgate is a lucky manager.