The signing of Alexis Sanchez in January represented something of a coup for Manchester United, who not only bagged Arsenal’s most effective player, but did so under the nose of Manchester City who seemed destined to sign the 29-year-old.
Despite being lauded by many as the ready-made matchwinner, Sanchez endured a somewhat underwhelming start to his Old Trafford career. Three goals in 16 appearances, was hardly what the club had in mind when they unveiled him in a video more at home on MTV than MUTV.
During the 2016/17 season, Sanchez hit his best form and printed his name in English footballing records, after scoring 24 goals in 38 appearances. With speculation surrounding Sanchez beginning to gain momentum thanks to a tough start to the 2017/18 campaign, United put the 29-year-old out of his misery as the Reds swooped in and signed to forward in the January window.
With such a huge introduction came the huge responsibility of the number seven shirt. Placing Sanchez amongst the likes of George Best, Eric Cantona, David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo was a bold statement. United had struggled to fill the number seven legacy after Angel di Maria and Memphis Depay’s short spells at the club. Could Sanchez be the superstar that brings the number seven shirt back to life?
But first, Sanchez must resurrect his own career with United, and after a lack of international football this summer, the Chilean was able to join his team-mates in the United States for pre-season and prove himself to United fans worldwide.
Despite missing the first game in Phoenix due to a visa issue, Sanchez has since shown signs of his original self and has impressed both the manager and travelling fans.
During Manchester United’s 2-1 victory over Champions League winners Real Madrid in Los Angeles Sanchez was the stand-out player for the Reds, and was tipped by team-mate Andre Herrera to be man-of-the-match.
Sanchez could be reborn after his transition from a winger into a striker and could find himself alongside Belgium forward Romelu Lukaku during the upcoming season. Mourinho put Sanchez at the top of an unusual 3-4-2-1 formation, showing his confidence in the ability of the forward.
The World Cup certainly shortened Mourinho’s selection choice for the pre-season tour. With majority of the club’s players away on international duty he had no other choice than to put faith in his youth players. However, this has also been a great opportunity for Sanchez who stepped up as one of the few experienced players in the squad, and Mourinho seemed satisfied with his individual performance.
The manager said: “Alexis is the only attacking player we have, he is the only one. We don’t have wingers we don’t have strikers and the poor man is there trying his best. With the frustration of a player that wants more. For me, Alexis has phenomenal attitude and lots of respect for the club.”
There are not many more excuses that can be made for Sanchez.
Under-performing and inconsistency this season cannot be blamed on youth, unlike with Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial. With a full pre-season under his belt, this is the forward’s big chance to prove himself as a United player. It was never going to be an easy start for Sanchez after joining in January and Mourinho made his thoughts clear about the subject:
“It’s not easy to come in the middle of the season. I’m not a big fan of the winter market because it is not easy for players to adapt. So, I think after a few months with us, I think it’s a perfect moment for him to establish himself as an important player for us.”
The 29-year-old first introduced himself as a world-class footballer during his time at Barcelona. He scored 47 goals in 141 appearances for the club, in the process winning one La Liga title, one Spanish Cup, two Spanish Super Cups and a European Super cup.
However, being in the shadows of the likes of Neymar, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez didn’t suit a player of Sanchez’s stature – who made his move to England when Arsene Wenger came calling.
Despite being Arsenal’s best player with 80 goals in 165 games, some fans felt that Sanchez’s bright spark was beginning to fizzle out at the Emirates Stadium, but Manchester United fans are impressed with his enthusiasm and appetite to do well.
Could this be the season when he can hit his form and lead United to Premier League and Champions league success? Alongside World-Cup winner Paul Pogba, the Red Devils are more than prepared to light up the Premier League this season.