It looks as though it’s a matter of when, rather than if, Alexis Sanchez will become a Manchester United player.
The Arsenal forward is believed to be so far along in negotiations that it could all be completed in a matter of hours, provided out-of-favour Man United winger Henrikh Mkhitaryan agrees to leave in the other direction.
With Sanchez set to become Man United’s signing, attention will soon be turning to where the Chilean international will fit in Jose Mourinho’s starting eleven. The 29-year-old has always been a player that likes to play in every minute of every game so rotation probably won’t be an option, but his versatility in attack means that there are a number of options for Mourinho to choose from in finding a place for him.
Option 1: Central Attacking Midfielder
Having played the majority of last season as a central striker, Alexis’ position was adapted this year to accommodate £55m signing Alexandre Lacazette – insofar as he was moved deeper to form a narrow front three with the new buy and Mesut Ozil. Such a move by Mourinho is possible and he has played with three at the back this season, but it would also take away from his wide options.
He could, however, keep Sanchez in that central position but as part of a 4-2-3-1, like so:
The most immediate drawback of this plan would be the disruption it could cause to Jesse Lingard’s form. The England international has been Man United’s standout performer in recent weeks, and taking him out of that number ten role could have a detrimental impact on his performances.
Option 2: On the Wing
Juan Mata has regularly occupied the right wing slot this season, but that could be where Sanchez slots into to the side. The only problem, of course, is that although the latter can play on that wing, he has yet to do so this season.
If he were to be put on the left, however, it might cause an even bigger problem:
Man United’s failure to land Ivan Perisic in the summer has meant that Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford have been battling it out to nail down that left-hand spot. The results have been mixed, but at least it gives two young players some much-needed first-team football.
Should Sanchez be placed on that wing, then the two promising forwards would find their starting time significantly reduced for the rest of the season.
Despite the upheaval that putting Sanchez on the wing would likely cause the existing setup, this would appear to be the most logical course of action.
Option 3: As a Striker
In all, Sanchez scored 30 goals for Arsenal in all competitions last season – his best ever season as a professional in terms of finding the net. His return this campaign hasn’t been as strong (8 in 21 games), and Mourinho may feel that pushing him back up front may be the key to unlocking his true scoring ability once more, either as part of a 3-5-2 or an attack-minded 4-4-2.
That, however, like the 3-4-3 above, would be a waste of the wider players that Mourinho can call upon – though that may give rise to a handy Plan B option similar to how Antonio Conte uses Pedro and Willian at Chelsea.
In our first Mixer Irish Football Podcast of 2018, we discuss Martin O’Neill’s rejection of the Stoke job and what that means for his Ireland role, a new era at Limerick and all of the latest League of Ireland transfer news.