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Sancho saga far from over as sluggish Man Utd stumble into semi-finals

2:26 AM GMT+4 11/08/2020
Bruno Fernandes Jadon Sancho Manchester United GFX
The game of poker over the winger's future has taken plenty of twists and turns, but United's need for an injection of further firepower remains clear

If we did not know it already, we do now - Jadon Sancho's potential move to Manchester United is going to be the transfer saga that dominates the rest of the window.

Monday's footballing agenda - from Sancho being named in Dortmund's squad for their pre-season training camp in Switzerland, to Michael Zorc's claims the decision not to sell was now "final", to United insisting they would not be giving up the fight - was dominated by the 20-year-old England winger.

So prolific was the Sancho-related news that by the time kick-off rolled around in Cologne it was easy to forget that United still had a European quarter-final to negotiate before they could switch off for a few hours.

Negotiate it they did, with Bruno Fernandes' penalty in extra-time seeing them past a stubborn FC Copenhagen side, but it was a performance from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side that showcased exactly why United are refusing to give up on signing Sancho before the October 5 deadline.

The pre-match message from Solskjaer was clear as United arrived in Germany: the Norwegian is desperate to win his first trophy as manager of the club, and, as such, his strong team selection was no surprise.

Back in came the likes of Marcus Rashford, Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial, Mason Greenwood and Fernandes having been rested for the last-16 win over LASK on Wednesday, but, during the first half, onlookers would have been forgiven for mistaking the players on display for the second-string.

Copenhagen enjoyed the better of the opening 45 minutes, with Stale Solbakken's side putting in something close to the "perfect" display which he had requested from his players ahead of kick-off. The Danish side chased down every ball and blocked every shot while teenage forward Mohamed Daramy caused problems with his pace and trickery.

United, still reeling from their relentless end to the Premier League season, struggled for fluency in the 33 C(91F) degree heat. Greenwood did have an impressive finish ruled out for offside in the final minute of the half, but, on the whole, it was a display crying out for a player of Sancho's ability.

The Red Devils did improve somewhat after the break, with both Greenwood and Fernandes striking the woodwork - the latter of which left David de Gea exasperated among the substitutes - before Martial was denied by one of a record-equalling 13 saves from goalkeeper Karl-Johan Johnsson.

It was clear that Solskjaer needed to turn to his bench, but he lacked game-changing attacking options. Jesse Lingard, Andreas Pereira, Tahith Chong and Juan Mata were among his best alternatives - a fact that should highlight exactly why United are unwilling to take no for an answer when it comes to Sancho.

The former Manchester City man might not have been on the bench for this game were he a United player, but if he was starting then one of Rashford, Martial or Greenwood would have been.

When that attacking trio were sweeping aside all who challenged them in the final weeks of the Premier League season, the need for Sancho was not clear. But here it was - Solskjaer needs at least one matchwinner on his bench, while having four world-class forwards would allow him to rotate and keep them all fresh through what is going to be a non-stop campaign in 2020-21.

To his credit, Mata did, in fact, provide the spark required in extra-time to help United over the line. The Spaniard replaced Greenwood at the end of 90 minutes and immediately cut through the Copenhagen defence twice before the impressive Martial was felled in the box five minutes into the additional 30.

Fernandes stepped up and characteristically converted from 12 yards to take his United goal tally to 11 since his January arrival and set up a meeting with Wolves or Sevilla in the final four. The Portugal international's signing has been revolutionary for Solskjaer, and the hope is that Sancho will perform the same role in the autumn.

For that to happen, United need to try and end this saga as soon as they possibly can.

They will not be bullied on price and may be forced to look for alternatives eventually, but for now the game of poker over Sancho's future remains very much in the balance. United's next move is crucial.