When Alexis Sánchez arrived at Manchester United in the January transfer window, there was a great sense of optimism over what this signing could bring. Under José Mourinho, the Red Devils’ attack was stifling and very few chances being created let alone scored. They needed something to revitalise their attack and Sánchez was a real possibility of doing just that.
After beating Manchester City to the signing of the Chile international, fans were incredibly excited to see what he could bring to the team. He might have signed on ginormous wages, but he would certainly live up to expectation and be of value if he was to replicate his immense form under Arsène Wenger for Arsenal.
However, life in Manchester was not plain sailing for Sánchez. While there were a few games in which he excelled in – against Tottenham in the FA Cup semi final – it was a case of huge inconsistencies in his performances that gave the overwhelming sense of disappointment. Injuries took their toll and it appeared Sánchez was failing to gel into Manchester United’s attack.
After a solid pre-season in which it was his first summer in half a decade where international football did not take precedent, Sánchez looked sharp and raring to go for the start of the Premier League. But just as he was ready to take the campaign by storm, another injury curtailed his progress and he did not look at peak physical performance.
A run in and out of the team, mainly from the bench, caused great concern among United fans, who were yet to see the player they were promised back in January. Everyone knows what a fantastic forward the Chilean is, but Mourinho simply could not find it in him nor keep him fit enough to put games together.
Sánchez suffered the same fate as the rest of United’s attackers with being shackled to a regimented system that was not allowed to breathe. The former Arsenal striker is a fluid player that interchanges a lot with his other attackers and it is his movement that is one of his best characteristics and is why he can get into positions others cannot. Mourinho was not prepared to change his whole philosophy for that and so Sánchez rarely got the chance to express himself – just as his teammates did not.
Another hamstring injury has ruled Sánchez out since the beginning of December and he is only just returning to first-team training. Under new manager Solskjær, as seen with other forwards, Sánchez might just be in a position of strength heading into 2019 with a completely fresh coach who does not have an agenda.
The Chilean might be 30 but he can still add a lot to United’s attack. Providing he can maintain his fitness and remain injury free, Sánchez is a wonderful option to have either from the bench or to start alongside the Red Devils’ other vibrant, flexible forwards.
Under Mourinho there was a period in which Sánchez was played through the middle, just as he was on United’s pre-season tour to America. Even though he was not in the best of form, he looked threatening against Premier League defences and was in promising positions to strike. One of the main attributes in Sánchez’s locker is his ability to ghost in and out of dangerous areas on the pitch – something that many try and fail to achieve.
Whether Sánchez starts on the left, right or through the middle, under Solskjær’s guidance and permission, the Chilean will be allowed to rotate with his other teammates and interchange positions freely. As seen in his last full season at Arsenal, Sánchez reaps the rewards when given a free role and the freedom to move across the forward line – that is where he is so threatening.
In the Gunners’ 2016/17 season, Sánchez notched up 30 goals and 18 assists in 51 appearances. Nearly one goal contribution per-match and one of the main reasons why top flight clubs all over Europe were chasing the Chilean’s signature. Playing through the middle and occasionally off the left, he was surrounded by players in a flexible system that delivered service to him.
Now, under Solskjær, in his opening three games, it has been evident to see that the Norwegian plans to implement a similar style. The interim manager has said in depth at how Manchester United have to be on the front foot and attacking constantly, which will play into the hands of Sánchez.
It was a year to forget for Sánchez in 2018, but 2019 could be the year of his rebirth. Only time will tell.