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Sanchez at Manchester United: A different player or different surroundings?

Alexis Sanchez has much been lauded as one of the best players in the Premier League since he joined Arsenal in 2014 from Barcelona for £35m. In just his first season, he scored 16 goals and recorded 8 assists in 34 appearances. He carried on from his prolific debut season with 13 goals and 4 assists in the next campaign, but it was in the 2016/17 Premier League where he really shone, contributing 24 goals and 10 assists in 38 appearances. However, his prowess as one of the leagues top players is now being brought into question.

His form drastically dropped in the 2017/18 season, which many people put down to his increasing annoyance at his Arsenal teammates and his willingness to force a move away from the Emirates. So when his January transfer to Manchester United came about, spectators predicted an upturn in form from Alexis and a return to his early exploits in the Premier League.

That was not to be the case and there was no grand show-stopping first season at Manchester United. He recorded 2 goals and 3 assists in 12 Premier League appearances, in comparison with first half of the season for Arsenal where he scored 7 and got 3 assists in 19 appearances.

As would be expected with a man with so much quality, he received a lot of criticism for failing to make a difference to United’s performances attacking-wise. No one could question his work-rate and desire, but it seems Man U fans expected him to be perfect in every sense.

‘He doesn’t score enough’ and ‘he gives the ball away too much’ seem to be frequent complaints levelled at the ex-Barcelona player. And there is some truth to that, throughout his time in the Premier League Alexis has always wanted to make a difference, whether that be attempting to dribble past a few players or trying a defence-splitting pass, often without success.

In fact, since arriving in England, he has consistently ranked as one of the most dispossessed players, alongside Eriksen no-less. So perhaps it is wrong to criticise him for his rash use of the ball. There is cause to look at the difference between Arsenal and Manchester united for his perceived under-performance.

One stat that has drastically changed since he moved to the Theatre of Dreams is his shots per game. At Arsenal, he averaged 4.1 shots per game in every Premier League season. At Manchester United, that average numbers at under 2.2. In terms of chances created, that number has halved since leaving the Emirates.

This all therefore points to the difference in tactics at Manchester United. The Chilean has been occupying more central areas for Mourinho compared with his time at Arsenal where he was deployed more on the left side. Whilst there is no doubt that Manchester United are a better side than Arsenal, it is their differing play styles that seem to have affected Sanchez.

Wenger’s side were much more fluid and creative in attack in comparison with Mourinho’s structured set-up. On top of that, Arsenal had Mesut Ozil who, for all his critics, combined well with Alexis. At Old Trafford, the Chilean hasn’t really found a similar connection, which could go some way to explaining his less than fruitful time with Mourinho.

Alexis returned to the pitch against Spurs on Monday night as a substitute in the 0-3 loss, and many probably hoped he would be the catalyst for an improved performance. The Red Devils all game lacked any attacking prowess so it is difficult to heap more criticism onto the Chilean, when the whole team under-performed, especially in the second half.

As per usual, his work rate was high but he still lacked that decisiveness that he so often found in his early years in the Premier League. Maybe it is too soon to start judging him based on this season’s performances but United fans will be hoping that this campaign will be more successful for Sanchez after he completed his first full pre-season in a long time. Even then, Mourinho’s men will need to have an upturn in form before fans can start singling out Alexis for any more individual criticism.

Dan Stokes

22-year-old Modern Languages Graduate and Arsenal fan from the University of Southampton.

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