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The curious case of Alexis Sanchez

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On the 22 January, 2018 Manchester United completed a swap deal with Arsenal. Alexis Sanchez would be joining the club with Henrikh Mkhitaryan going in the opposite direction. You would have been hard pushed to find an Arsenal fan who’d thought they’d got the better end of the deal. Nevertheless, over a year on this is certainly the case.

Alexis Sanchez has scored one goal in the league this season. While Mkhitaryan has scored six. Leaving many United fans with questions. Would Mkhitaryan had been a better fit for Solskjaer’s system? And just what has happened to the Alexis Sanchez we once feared? 

Anyone following Sanchez knows he no longer carries the same threat in behind. Like many aging players he is having to adapt his game. Dropping deep as a playmaker. The stats in 2018 show he is averaging 2.8 passes in to the opposition box. More than any other United player. The problem with this is he is working in the same area as left sided midfield maestro Paul Pogba. 

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Even more problematically United attack down the left-hand side 41% of the time, compared to 32% along the right and 27% through the middle. This means Sanchez is attempting to operate in the most congested area of the pitch. Simply he is losing the pace to stretch defences. His tendency to cut back is giving defenders time to double up and recover on a team they know is so heavily left sided.  

This can be a source of frustration for Pogba too. To fully utilise Pogba’s passing ability requires runners off the ball. It’s no wonder Solskjaer is more favourable to Martial starting at left wing. There have been moments for Sanchez and Pogba. The lofted ball from Sanchez in the April Manchester derby finding Pogba for United’s equaliser. An example of United’s best football brains working in tandem. 

A position change may be something Solskjaer has considered, Sanchez put in a valiant performance against Juventus as a lone striker. His qualities have not disappeared, he just needs a team or system that accommodates them better. Nevertheless, for a player receiving such extortionate wages time is running out for him to prove his worth. 

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In summary, Alexis Sanchez’ situation is unfortunate. He is competing for space with one of the world’s best central midfield players. The left-sided nature of United’s attack has made his task more difficult. Signing a right wing like Sancho in the summer would benefit him more than most. 

He is working hard to return from injury mid-April. Just in time for United’s heavy weight clash versus his former club Barcelona. 

Is there life in the old dog yet? Time will tell. One thing is certain; if he delivers in United’s defining moment, the United faithful just might forgive him for everything.

Written by Chris Barnes

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