Jose Mourinho may have a major issue on his hands with Alexis Sanchez, writes David Newman.
Manchester United face a real problem currently regarding their all-time record signing Paul Pogba. He replaced Marouane Fellaini in the second period during United’s miserable display against Sevilla which saw the Spanish side fifth in La Liga progress to the quarter-finals of the Champions League, earning their first ever away win against an English team in the competition. The 24-year old had zero impact on the game, as was plain to see, and it points to a true regression of a player who in the opening months of the season was arguably United’s best and most influential asset, but who now struggles deeply to have any say in the outcome of his team’s result.
It’s an issue that recently has been widely discussed, with the player’s supposed unhappiness with Jose Mourinho only adding to the growing uncertainty surrounding the former Juventus midfielder and his future at United.
But there may well be another problem for Mourinho beginning to rear its head and it was there for all to see on Tuesday night, as well as during United’s 2-1 victory over Liverpool last weekend.
Alexis Sanchez, a player universally described as a hard-worker with unlimited energy, showed just that in his sixth league game for United. He tirelessly harried Liverpool’s back-line, bounding after the ball like a dog chasing a stick hurled by its owner, and in moments showing his uncanny ability to spin effortlessly away from incoming challenges and make his way forward, head up, looking for that killer pass.
The same could be seen against Sevilla, with the shoulder-dropping, hip-swirling and occasionally mystifying ability to evade interception popping up around the pitch in fits and spurts.
It’s what he does.
For Arsenal and even previously for Barcelona, Sanchez has always been that scampering work-horse, with his eagerness to win the ball, notably during his time in London, making the efforts of his teammates look embarrassingly lacking in comparison.
It certainly is difficult to knock a hard worker. It’s what the fans ask for, first and foremost in a player; a little bit of effort, a little showing of determination, grit and desire. The Chilean international is, without doubt, a footballer who shows in his performances that he has all of these in his game.
But, as with his previous performances for his new club to date, his work and effort have not produced a whole lot that could be described as game-changing. Less is more, and perhaps that may be something Mourinho will have to communicate to Sanchez if he continues to scurry around the field while failing to impose any great impact on the match.
Against Sevilla, as with all his games so far for United, you could quite easily cut together a compilation of Sanchez’s best moments, and it would look for all the world he was by far and away the best and most influential player on the pitch.
But you watch the games, you see the consistency with which Sanchez concedes possession, you see how often he runs down blind channels, runs into dead ends, you see how many times he tries to take on one player to many and is left to watch as the opposition turn and flood forward with the stolen ball, and what you see is a player who is clearly trying to do too much.
This is not a player with anything to prove. Alexis Sancez was a multiple trophy-winner at Barcelona and Arsenal and was quite easily the Gunners’ best and most important player for the time he was there. He arrived at United with perhaps the idea he would become their second-best player, after David De Gea. On paper, he is. But it hasn’t been reflecting where it really counts.
When the size of his wage packet leaked into public view, it’s hard to imagine how even United fans who were the most optimistic about his signing didn’t at least wince a little bit and think that much? Really?
Is this a player then who perhaps is aware that people are aware of how much he is earning at his new home and is doing his utmost each game to prove to the fans that it’s not about the money? That it is success first, financial reward a very distant second?
Sanchez to Manchester was a transfer most had been waiting to happen once the January transfer window opened. But it was the blue side of the city that everyone had expected to be graced with Sanchez’s services. Mourinho saw that City and Guardiola were stalling slightly, and pounced. We may never know how spontaneous an action it was by the decision-makers at Old Trafford, or whether it was a carefully meditated procedure that culminated in bringing in one of the country’s most exciting ever foreign imports.
It certainly had the feel of the former.
If anything, Rashford, Manchester-born, showcased against Liverpool what Sanchez has been lacking since his arrival. Having not seen his name on the starting XI team sheet since December 26th Rashford announced his return to the first team on Saturday by netting twice against a side whose defence, while typical shoddy, had found real solidity in recent weeks, helped greatly by the form of Virgil Van Dijk and Lorius Karius.
Against Sevilla, Rashford wasn’t nearly as effective, but he had his moments where his pace and willingness to create something with his pace and skill certainly had the opposition backline poised and ready to battle it. Sanchez had no such effect on the game.
In the Premier League, the Chilean has provided just one goal and one assist, with that one conversion being a tap-in following a poor, saved penalty against Huddersfield in February.
Having said all this, there would be every sense in pointing out it is yet too early to judge Sanchez and his impact on this United team.
But what the fans must soon grow wary of, is when it will get to the point where Sanchez’s continual inclusion in the team – in doing so possibly leaving either Martial or Rashford on the bench – is down to his reputation, as opposed to his ability as a footballer.
If the player fails to contribute in any major way much longer (which is not to say that he never will), then it could quite easily become another pain in Mourinho’s side as he suffers yet another setback during this season where the noisy neighbours are partying as loudly as ever.