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In the wake of the eagerly anticipated Manchester United Liverpool derby, Jose Mourinho informed the media that Manchester United aren’t getting the best out of newman Alexis Sanchez.
Despite being perhaps the most self-evident statement since Michael Owen announced ‘that would have been a goal if it had gone inside the post’, it remains a valid point.
Since arriving at Old Trafford the end of the January transfer window Alexis Sanchez has scored just once, a rebound following his penalty being saved against Huddersfield.
Furthermore, the Chilean has provided no assists, although he has created an impressive number of chances, while his most telling impact so far (besides his piano playing and his dogs) has been the staggering number of times he has given the ball away – 19 in just the first half against Crystal Palace.
There is no denying that Sanchez is one of the world’s best players, someone who can play anywhere across the attacking line, score any type of goal and whose commitment and desire not only lifts his teammates, but the fans (and judging by Mourinho’s criticism, United fans could use a little lifting).
But so far his biggest achievement has been being involved in more social media traffic than Neymar – stick that on your mantelpiece, eh.
So what’s going wrong for Sanchez at United and what can be done to rectify it. Here are four why Sanchez has failed to find form at his new club.
Pressure of the big move
When a player makes a high-profile move involving lots and lots of media attention and lots and lots and lots of money, they will inevitably be asked ‘so Mr [insert footballer’s name], you move involved lots and lots of media attention and lots and lots and lots of money, do you think that will bring pressure at [insert name of new club]?’
And to this, said player will inevitably respond ‘this is not something I can control so I do not worry about the money, I just want to get out there with the lads, play football and help this team achieve its sporting and commercial strategic aims over a 3-5 year period’.
But how many mega-transfers hit the ground running? With tens of thousands within the ground looking to one player, with millions around the globe shouting, tweeting and faxing their every opinion, who wouldn’t feel the pressure?
Performances that were once effortless become forced, as the player begins to feel a cold sweat rising on their forehead, realising that they’re 5 games in and still haven’t scored a – proper – goal.
It happened with Pogba and it’s happening again.
Time to settle
One reason that January is generally a poor month to do business in is that clubs, and players, are unwilling to give up on a project that is only halfway through completion.
Teams begin the season with a set of objectives and a chairman will be damned if he’s going to let his star man jump ship before those objectives have been completed.
The second is that when a player arrives in January they generally spend the first 6 months wandering around the pitch like a lost hospital patient, glassy eyed from the morphine still coursing through their veins, the roar of the crowd causing their gown to fly up around their waste, revealing their bare bottom to the unfortunate grandmother who has had the same season ticket for 82 years and has never seen anything like this before.
This phenomenon can break a player: Fernando Torres. Or alternatively, a player can break the phenomenon: Nemanja Vidic.
Nonetheless, in football it takes time to get up to speed with a dressing room and when you join that dressing room when everything is on the line, nobody is going to slow down so that you can catch up.
In the summer it will be a different story, but for now Sanchez looks like he’s on a different wavelength to the rest of his team mates, it’s not unusual but it is painful to watch.
The Cursed Shirt
One factor influencing Sanchez’s ability to give the ball to one of those blokes in red should absolutely not be ignored and that is the fact that Sanchez is wearing a cursed shirt.
It is a shirt which has derailed more than one career: ripping the souls from seasoned United performers as well as Europe’s best and brightest.
Since Ronaldo vacated the number 7 it has been occupied by 5 players.
The first was Michael Owen who in fact turned out to be one of the more successful hosts, scoring that famous winner against City. Next up was Antonio Valencia, who after years of excellent performances at right wing took the shirt and absolutely crumbled, returning a few years later as a right back, impressive but a shadow of his former self.
Then there came Angel Di Maria, the most expensive player in British history, fresh off the back of carrying Real Madrid to Champions League glory. How long did he last? Just the one year, before being sold at a £22m loss.
After Di Maria came Memphis Depay, the hottest young talent in Europe who spluttered at United before being shipped off to Lyon, this time at a £15m loss. And now Sanchez has it.
To ignore the clear correlation between wearing the number 7 and absolutely bottling it, should it come as any surprise that Sanchez has struggled? Would it not be more surprising, if he actually managed to succeed? Old Trafford will have its collective fingers crossed.
The team is all over the *@!%ing place
The final reason for Sanchez’s ineptitude and in reality, the most telling, is that United’s attack is all over the place.
During the half time of United’s clash with Crystal Palace, in which the former trailed by 1 goal to 0, Jamie Carragher described Sanchez and his fellow star Paul Pogba as playing like the two best players on the school playground; arrogant enough to believe that because of their supreme talent, the rules simply didn’t apply to them.
And it is true that Mourinho’s side lack a cohesive structure in attack.
Sanchez regularly drifts inside, meanwhile Pogba tends to occupy a similar space on the inside left, with Anthony Martial also coming inside. But with everyone occupying the same space in behind Romelu Lukaku, United’s players do the admirable job of funnelling their own attacks into the heart of the opposition’s defence.
One of the reasons for Manchester City’s supreme success is the extent to which they maintain width through Sane and Sterling. By hugging the touchlines the oppositions defence becomes stretched, opening up spaces for Aguero up front, but also providing the opportunity for Sterling and Sane to make a dart into the box, arriving unexpectedly and grabbing goal after goal after goal.
United’s attack by comparison is about as dynamic as vasectomy, with every possible outcome being easily telegraphed by defences who are able to simply flood the centre of the pitch and stifle everyone except for #JLingz.
To solve his Sanchez problem Jose Mourinho needs to create a structure within his attack, it is not good enough for Pogba and Sanchez to swan around the pitch in search of glory as each player suffocates the other.
United’s fans may be baying for free-flowing football, but what has to be understood is that the beautiful attacking play of Manchester City or Bayern Munich or Barcelona is only achievable once every player understands how their role supports and affects the players around them.
Unfortunately, since Sanchez’s arrival United’s players have been running around the pitch like a set of bumper cars.
Of course, developing this understanding will take time, but in the meantime Mourinho should think about curtailing the licence of his star players.
As it stands Sanchez is a shadow of the player he should be. Time and a tactical shift should sort the problem, but there’s always that risk that the Curse of the Number 7 is about to strike again.
Written by Scott Pope
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