A luxury signing from the outset, the continued struggles of Alexis Sanchez have evolved beyond “he just needs time to bed in.” There is serious cause for concern around Sanchez for Manchester United – here’s a deeper look.
While much of the angst this week around Old Trafford has concerned the fractious relationship between Jose Mourinho and Paul Pogba, it is another of Ed Woodward’s marquee signings that will be the one to cause lasting damage for Manchester United.
Regardless of the performances Sanchez put in, his ridiculous wages were always going to cause internal strife. Breaking the wage structure of a club causes rifts, as other star players at the club in turn feel they deserve a boost.
And, regardless of the performances, his presence as an automatic starter on the left wing hinders play time for young, proven talents in Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial. While it is still up in the air on whether Martial will sign a new contract, it is not hard to see why he had a dispute with management after Sanchez was brought in.
If the Chilean was performing, these factors would matter less. However, as any statistical metric or eye test will tell you, he is not performing. There are a few key reasons for the lack of production by Sanchez at Old Trafford, but one point is worth stating from the outset.
For once, this is not a Mourinho problem
While it sure feels as if Manchester United is in the midst of Mourinho Third Season Disease, optimism among Manchester United fans that Alexis Sanchez will make good is waning.
Alexis Sanchez had an entire offseason to rest, not showing up this season with any of the World Cup weariness that can stunt a player’s start to the season. Mourinho also had him for the entirety of preseason, so the old adage of bedding in a January signing is now ringing hollow.
Quite frankly, he’s been dire. Sanchez hasn’t completed a full match since the opening 2-1 victory over Leicester, getting yanked in the 63rd minute against Wolves last weekend. One assist so far this season brings his Manchester United tally to two goals and four assists in 17 EPL matches for the Red Devils.
As detailed below, the main concern is the precipitous drop in pace. That is not something the Special One can fix. While Sanchez’s bulldog mentality might wax and wane, that is something a player can grow back. Burst loses out to Father Time every time.
A legitimate counterargument – that Alexis Sanchez is indeed being wasted by Mourinho – that has cropped up in various forums is that Sanchez looked quality this preseason in a lead striker position while Rashford and Romelu Lukaku sat out. Lukaku, however, is simply too good to push out so that a failing marquee signing can come good.
The loss of his ability to make quick bursts, however, is the biggest worry.
No space without pace
Alexis Sanchez at Arsenal was a worldbeater. His work rate is (or at least was) world class, with a motor that was evident both in attack and defense. Many of his best moves, however, came due to a burst of acceleration, coupled with wonderful balance, to scoot by defenders.
The balance is still there, but comparing 2018 Alexis to the Alexis of yesteryear highlights the loss of that burst. In the Arsenal video below for the 2014/15 season, look how quick his changes in direction are – that first step acceleration allows much of the brilliance displayed in the highlights.
Manchester United Sanchez appears to have lost this ability to quick-shift without losing a step. He’s not beating people as consistently – despite being the Manchester United player with the 9th most touches this year, he has been dispossessed 3rd most.
Those stats also point to another of Alexis’ problems right now – he appears to be pressing too much (and not the good kind of pressing).
Alexis will need to adapt to a new role to be successful
Sanchez is not going to supplant Lukaku as the main striker. What he can do, however, is learn to adapt to his new role.
Of the six total assists Sanchez has across all competitions for the Red Devils, three have been to the big Belgian. That, right there, is the realistic glimmer of hope for United fans. If the two can combine on attacks, Alexis will not need to put his head down and bull rush forward.
Instead, he can utilize his world class skills to form a big man-little man partnership. To do that, however, he will need to adapt his play style to a more assist-driven approach.
Even if he is able to come good, overcome the loss of his first step, and form a dynamic partnership with Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez has a long way to go before he is viewed as a successful transfer for Manchester United.