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Alexis Sanchez arrives at Manchester United with expectation at an unrealistic level. The Chilean looked, for a long time, set to move to Manchester City, but has arrived at United with a huge gap between the two teams both in performances and result.
Sanchez carried a struggling Arsenal last season. He comes to Manchester United to try to close the gap to Pep Guardiola’s runaway train. It’s not a debate of whether Sanchez will be a fixture in Jose Mourinho’s team, it’s simply a case of who he will dislodge.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan has already has his Manchester United career ended by Mourinho’s pursuit of Sanchez. He might not be the only one.
Mourinho has favoured a 4-3-3 of late with Jesse Lingard and Paul Pogba given free roles alongside Nemanja Matic. The Serbian has played a key part in balancing the side, anchoring the midfield and giving freedom to United’s plethora of attacking stars.
Lingard has been superb recently, and he is unlikely to be impacted too heftily by the arrival of Sanchez. Remarkably, the England international is probably safe not only in remaining at the club, but as a regular starter.
That takes us to the front three. Other than Romelu Lukaku – who will continue to lead the line – it is surprisingly Juan Mata who has amassed the most Premier League minutes with 1339. Mata’s United career has lasted longer under Mourinho than many expected. He does, however, seem to be the player most at threat from Sanchez’s arrival.
Marcus Rashford, too, has played over 1300 league minutes this season, predominantly in wide roles. He has scored just four league goals this term. Rashford is a threatening dribbler, but his future really should be down the middle. His potential is limited as a wide player, even when given license to make those out-to-in runs.
Out-to-in runs lead perfectly onto the other contender, Anthony Martial. The Frenchman has seemingly won Mourinho over this season, and made the left-wing role his own. Nine league goals put him just two behind Lukaku.
The prospect of Martial leaving Old Trafford – as was suggested in some corners last summer – is absurd. The former Monaco man has the potential to be a perennial Ballon d’Or contender. He, though, will be feeling most threatened by Sanchez.
The Chile international will play from the left, as he did for the majority of his time at Arsenal. His productivity is higher from the left-side of the opposition box, giving him the opportunity to open his body and shoot.
Martial, as a result, will have to adapt to playing from the right if he is to remain a starter. His almost trademark run down the inside-left channel will have to edge a few yards across the pitch, but this is not a transition beyond his skillset.
The prospect of Martial and Sanchez running off Lukaku will have Premier League defenders wincing like they’ve stood on Lego. We may see Sanchez play centrally closer to Lukaku if Mourinho opts for the 4-2-3-1 and leaves Lingard out, too.
Rashford and Mata stand to lose the most from this. The Spaniard may well be looking to leave the club come summer, while the once-boy-wonder of Old Trafford is set to face the biggest challenge of his young career.
Written by Sam Cox
Follow Sam on Twitter @SamRCox_
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