Alexis Sanchez joined Manchester United last January amidst much fan fervour. There was a lot of chest-beating about beating Manchester City to his signing. But a year down the line, we are still waiting to see the Chilean emerge from just playing the piano.
You’d only need the fingers of one hand to count the number of times Sanchez produced the goods at Old Trafford. There was a feeling that the attacker will flourish under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who seemed to have given the freedom the forwards were pining for under Jose Mourinho. But Sanchez was again disappointing against Leicester on Sunday. Any tactical analysis and the statistics of the game will show that the Chilean again failed to step up.
Failing to step-up in Anthony Martial’s absence
Anthony Martial was in terrific form in January last year but Sanchez’s arrival gave Mourinho the excuse to drop the Frenchman from the starting Xl. A year down the line, the Chilean is struggling to get into the team. Martial has signed a new long-term deal and has emerged as the first choice under Solskjaer.
The Frenchman is returning from a slight back injury and was on the bench on Sunday. Sanchez received the perfect opportunity to shine and give Solskjaer a headache. But the Chilean further highlighted the importance of Martial in the team.
The former Arsenal man struggled to link-up with Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard. He missed a couple of opportunities to play a killer final ball on counter-attacks. With him, the forward three a little disjointed. The fluency Martial, Rashford and Lingard have shown in recent weeks was missing. The Chilean was working hard and trying things but he again lacked the final flourish.
A player known for his dribbling skills, Sanchez only completed one of his dribbles. He didn’t make any attempt to play a through ball. He didn’t attempt a single shot during the game, which makes his attacking numbers look even more dismal.
A change in shape can help Sanchez. But at what cost?
The general consensus is Sanchez is at his best when coming in from the left flank. But he played his best football at Arsenal when he played in a central role. Arsene Wenger gave him the freedom to buzz around in the final third. His movement made it extremely difficult to mark him out of the game.
Since his arrival at Manchester United, Sanchez has more or less exclusively played down the left. Mourinho preferred to play Romelu Lukaku as the target man and Solskjaer has clearly stated that the central striker’s role is Rashford’s. The Manchester United boss has allowed his front three to be more fluid. But the England striker is clearly the man in the centre and the attack revolves around him.
Sanchez was at his beat when he was the fulcrum of Arsenal’s forward line. But in the current set-up, it looks increasingly difficult to envisage him playing down the middle. Solskjaer is unlikely to take Rashford out of his current role, especially because of his rich vein of form.
A change in shape could help Sanchez but it could adversely affect the long-term number nine prospects of Rashford. Solskjaer or any other forward-thinking manager is unlikely to take that chance. Sanchez either has to shine on the left when given the opportunity or warm the bench for the time being.
Alexis Sanchez’s future at Old Trafford
Sanchez is already 30 and is fast running out of time to make it at Old Trafford. A complete baller on his day, the Chilean has struggled to justify his hefty billing at Manchester United. His wages are ginormous, £350,000 to £500,000 based on media reports, and at some point, patience will run out with him.
The departure of Marouane Fellaini has shown the club are looking to free up the wage bill for the summer. At some point, the Manchester United hierarchy will take the tough call on Sanchez as well. He has not been producing enough to justify such a huge outlay on him.
The club are expected to be busy in the next transfer window as the new manager will expect significant funds. Despite what Forbes and Deloitte say, Manchester United don’t have a bottomless pit of funds. An enormous outlay in transfer fees and wages will have to be balanced with a few sales. The new manager could easily come to the conclusion, there’s no point in continuing with Sanchez at such huge numbers.
The Chilean has little over three months to make sure that he is not remembered in the same vein as Radamel Falcao and Angel di Maria in the collective memory of Manchester United fans.
Manchester United saw some of the old Sanchez against Tottenham in the FA Cup semi-final last year. The Chilean also produced a last-minute winner against Newcastle United at home this season. His goal against Arsenal will also go down as one of his best moments at Old Trafford.
But those moments have been few and far between. For a large majority of the games, Sanchez has just not produced. Mourinho’s tactics didn’t help him but under Solskjaer there has been little room for excuses. Almost all of Manchester United forwards have seen an upturn in form under the Norwegian. The Chilean’s form sticks out like a sore thumb.
Sanchez is fast running out of time to make people talk about anything else other than his wages at Manchester United.
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