Looking at the Premier League from last season alone, the image of Alexis Sanchez cutting a forlorn figure in a red shirt in North London followed by similar body language in Manchester would make you question his attitude and mindset.
Perhaps the futile transfer saga with Manchester City affected his concentration? Or the fact that his time at the Emirates was beset by the team’s failures in Europe and gradual decline in the Premier League?
You would be forgiven to think that Arsenal did a good bit of business offloading him and in return bolstering their ranks with Dortmund’s coveted alumni of Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. All of this merits one simple question – is Manchester United’s Chile international past his peak? And is there more behind why he hasn’t been performing to his optimal best?
In some ways, from a fantasy football perspective, it was fortunate that Chile missed out on this summer’s World Cup as it’s provided Sanchez with genuine down time to recuperate and rest. To put this in context, since the turn of the decade he has played in some sort of major tournament for the national team on six occasions since the 2010 World Cup, of which he had to sacrifice a large chunk of his summer in four consecutive calendar years between 2014-2017.
No other elite footballer in the Premier League has had to make such a commitment that would naturally take a toll on any athlete’s body. In spite of this Sanchez has registered 34 assists and 62 goals in the Premier League – a direct goal involvement for every 116 minutes played – and a remarkable return for a player that hasn’t featured in a title winning team. Could any other player have achieved this sort of standard with a disrupted preseason beforehand for multiple years?
As early as December 2014, Arsene Wenger talked about the implications of his star player’s on-field exertions and being in the ‘red zone’. However, there was no major let up in minutes played as he was a key member of the team, with no genuine alternative to match his class. In fact, from his initial time at the Emirates, it was obvious to see Sanchez’s style of wanting to play every single minute, disliking coming off before the match ended and his outright determination to chase every last ball.
Interestingly, this stood in stark contrast to the aesthetically lackadaisical nature of his teammate, Mesut Ozil. But that’s beside the point. Perhaps the Chilean has been unfortunate in the past 12 months with a combination of burn out – specifically being more fatigued than expected and not being supported appropriately by his teammates.
At 29 years old, he’s still arguably at the peak of his footballing ability. Form and injury permitting, there isn’t anything that should stop him delivering consistently good performances like he showed at the Emirates for most of his time there. With all that said, Sanchez won’t improve any more as a player, but with the much needed rest he may feel rejuvenated in delivering at a high standard that he displayed in his first three seasons at Arsenal.
It’s not inconceivable for him to achieve a dozen assists and a dozen league goals this season, which is a respectable return for one of Manchester United’s most attacking players. With a lot of his teammates still regaining their fitness levels, post-World Cup, Sanchez will be the engine to United’s attack and may even be entrusted with most dead ball situations from the outset.
Even with the temperamental nature of Manchester United’s manager, one thing is certain: the Red Devils will rely on Alexis Sanchez at the start of the season and beyond. It bodes well that he has been scoring during pre-season.
He may only have one or two years left at this level in which his attacking influence makes him a talismanic figure, but he certainly hasn’t lost his knack to deliver from anywhere in the final third of the pitch. He just needs to rediscover his proven prowess. A good start to the season is just what he needs to boost his confidence and revitalise his match winning pedigree. That isn’t too much to ask for.