Early Alexis struggles are symbolic of Manchester United’s failings

Alexis Sanchez’s start to his Manchester United career has been about as bad as was possible. Having left Arsenal in the midst of their annual crisis, Alexis has found Manchester United in a strange bubble of their own.

However, aside from their Champions League disaster, results haven’t been too bad. Wins over Chelsea and Liverpool in the league have consolidated their top four berth, while the comeback victory away at Crystal Palace was oddly reminiscent of the Alex Ferguson era.

The football during this period, though, has still been criticised. Jose Mourinho has edged from pragmatist to defensive-obsessive, and it’s not exactly winning friends (not that Mourinho has specialised much in that in the last few years). It, too, has impacted on Alexis, who has found himself wrapped up on the bench.

Sanchez has been a figure of fun. His frankly wince-inducing dispossessed numbers are thrown across the internet every time he takes the field. He gave the ball away a lot when he played for Arsenal as well, of course, but this has been exaggerated at United and highlighted after his long-awaited transfer.

Alexis tries things. He goes for the ambitious more often than almost any other player. When he’s on top form – like much of last season – it is a remarkable run of highlight reel play, from dinked passes to long-range finishes.

The penalty for such play is losing the ball. That consequence is more readily accepted when he is the star of a team. When asked to be a role player rather than focal point, these moments of grand ambition become an irritant.

Mourinho demands each and every one of his players is a role player. No player in Mourinho’s teams – often to their detriment – is given freedom to roam how they please and opt for low-percentage moves like Sanchez does. Flair players have to adapt to flourish under Mourinho, and even then it is not quite the same as it would be elsewhere.

Sanchez benefited from great PR while at Arsenal. There was a widespread acceptance that he was this tireless worker willing to give up anything for the cause.

This was not the case, just as every Arsenal fan would tell you. The Chilean was disliked by his own teammates for his attitude at the Gunners, as reported by Raphael Honigstein on Football Weekly.

Manchester United fell for this PR. The player that Sanchez was commonly perceived to be makes sense for Mourinho. A terrier out of possession, happy to track his full-back across the pitch, because he wants to win more than anything.

Either that or they bought Sanchez on reputation, perhaps with added motivation to stop him going to Manchester City.

Whatever the reasoning, the signing of Sanchez reflects Manchester United’s transfer policy since Ferguson retired. A new player that excites fans but does not make sense for the squad or team.

Two players who should be club icons for the next decade, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, are blocked by Alexis. The former Barcelona forward does not suit Mourinho’s approach, and early signs suggest Mourinho either cannot get him to change – like Guardiola may have done – or does not know how to use him.

Alexis could yet have a stellar United career. It’s not often, though, that a player turns it around after a first few months at a club as negative as this.


Written by Sam Cox

Follow Sam on Twitter @SamRCox_

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