Alexis Sanchez flexes star quality against Swansea City

Manchester United made quick work of Swansea City in a 2-0 victory in their first match since returning from the international break. There were bright individual performances across the pitch, but perhaps none more welcome than Alexis Sanchez’s star turn.

The Chilean has struggled for form since joining United in January from Arsenal. In and of itself this wouldn’t be a major cause for concern. The necessary adjustment period is natural and a major reason why clubs try to avoid doing significant business midseason. In this case, the situation unfolded in such a way that a star performer like Sanchez became available and United needed to act quickly.

In Sanchez, United added a Premier League proven attacker capable of turning matches on his own. His goal scoring and playmaking record in England prior to making the switch stacks up against anybody in the league.

Prior to Saturday’s match against the Swans, he had yet to produce that type of form for United though. Perhaps even more frustrating for him and supporters has been his ineffective and turnover heavy performances in embarrassing losses against Tottenham and Sevilla since joining. United as a whole were well short of their best and listless in both of those matches, but there was a sense Sanchez’s arrival had contributed to that and his addition had hurt the balance of the squad.

Against the visitors from Wales, though still not back to his absolute best, had sustained periods of brilliance and the output to show for it. Sanchez was the provider for Romelu Lukaku’s opener in the fifth minute, squaring into him after being found on the left by Jesse Lingard. 15 minutes later Lingard again played him through, this time straight through on goal, and Sanchez finished with no hesitation.

The end product served as a reminder of Sanchez’s quality, but the signs went beyond goals and assists. In previous matches, he’s been dispossessed with ease or given the ball away cheaply in trying to beat one man too many or looking to play the killer pass instead of the smart one. On Saturday Sanchez kept it simple and was efficient with his touches. He linked up frequently with Lingard, Lukaku and Juan Mata rather than trying to do it all on his own.

More importantly. Sanchez’s positioning was consistently excellent in possession. There have been times where United’s attack has been far too narrow and congested in the middle, a problem Sanchez has contributed to himself. He’s often found dropped too deep in an effort to get on the ball and as a result, occupied the same spaces as Paul Pogba rather than making himself an option for a forward pass.

Against the Swans this was not the case as he constantly provided an outlet, finding pockets of space out on the left-wing or drifting between the lines. The understanding between him, Mata and Lingard was wonderful to watch for United supporters. Their fluidity in interchanging positions gave the visitors problems throughout the match.

As always Sanchez was excellent when he was dispossessed or forced to track back as well. His work rate and hunger to get the ball back for his side was key in keeping United on top as Swansea struggled to get a foothold in the match in the first half. His influence waned after halftime, but it was more a case of Swansea growing into the game and controlling possession in midfield for periods rather than anything of his own doing.

Of course, next weekend’s derby against league-leading Manchester City will be a greater test for Sanchez and United as a whole. It’s for these big matches that Sanchez was brought to the club, to elevate the side’s attacking potency and unpredictability when stakes are the highest. The first glimpses of that match winning star quality were on show at Old Trafford at the weekend and United will hope it will carry through the end of the season and, hopefully, into next year, when they hope to mount a real challenge for the league. Sanchez getting back to his best will be critical to that goal.

Written by Ashwin Ramnath

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