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In the three games Alexis Sanchez has played for Manchester United, it’s worth noting that only one has seen Anthony Martial play in the same starting line-up as the Reds’ new signing.
This was against Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley and despite slumping to defeat, United actually looked rather sharp in attack, even if Martial was forced to play in an unfavoured position on the right hand side.
Jose Mourinho needs to find a way to play both of the forwards in the same team, it’s crucial to how United develop as an attacking unit.
Prior to Sanchez’s arrival, Martial was developing fantastically; he had finally earned the trust of Mourinho and was contributing goals from the left. Of course it was disingenuous to suggest that the team didn’t need a player of Sanchez’s ability, he has already starred in his displays for the club.
However, you feel that for Manchester United to be at their best, the pair needs to find a way to play together.
Martial and Marcus Rashford have shared the duties of a wide forward on either side of Romelu Lukaku this season, although it’s fair to suggest that neither are overly comfortable on the right.
Rashford’s long-term position is likely to be through the middle, however for the Frenchman he is at his best when coming in from the left.
This is also where Sanchez can be at his best too; fortunately for the Portuguese coach the Chilean international is also effective through the middle.
Martial is up alongside Pogba and Sanchez as the club’s most naturally talented footballer, he is still just 22 years old and can improve. This is something Mourinho has alluded to, suggesting that the signing of Sanchez is to add experience to his front line.
“He is a fantastic addition,” he explained.
“Alexis brings maturity and class.
“His choice for the second goal [against Yeovil] is a choice that a player like Marcus Rashford is too nervous to make.”
Sanchez won’t necessarily take too much game time away from the young duo, but there is a worry that they will be forced to fit around him, as we’ve seen so far.
Too often Lukaku has been isolated up front this season; he has at times cut a lonely figure in a great deal of space whilst taking very few touches of the ball. His goal-scoring record has been as impressive as the club anticipated when they brought him in from Everton, yet it’s his link-up play which has left some supporters frustrated.
Saturday’s clash with Huddersfield showed Lukaku and Sanchez working in tandem, the Chile international was incredibly effective at taking the ball forward and working space for either a shot or a pass through to the Belgian.
They are not yet on the same wavelength, but that will come and it’s been proven that Lukaku thrives on good service, his opening goal against the Terriers being a prime example.
Under Jose Mourinho, Manchester United haven’t yet found the perfect balance. When Paul Pogba is freed into a more attacking midfield position he has performed exceptionally, yet with Sanchez’s arrival and Jesse Lingard’s excellent form it’s difficult to push him further up.
There is also the small matter of a lack of deeper midfield options, Marouane Fellaini has been persistently injured this term whilst Ander Herrera is lacking confidence, Michael Carrick’s heart issue has seen him miss almost the entire campaign to this point, often Pogba and Nemanja Matic has been the only pairing the former Real Madrid coach has had to choose from.
Scott McTominay has impressed when given the opportunity, but he too is still developing, United lack a midfielder who can play alongside Matic and deliver direct passes into the more attacking players.
This will come in the summer, yet for now Mourinho has to find some way of balancing his top-heavy team whilst getting the best out of all of them at the same time.
Winning the title is a near impossibility this season, Mourinho has to finish the season strongly in a way which sets up the next campaign. A run in the knockout stages of the Champions League is expected but it will be very difficult to reach the semi final stage.
There would have to be quite the collapse for the Reds not to finish in the top four this season, now this isn’t to say Mourinho has a blank slate to work with, but he can try different systems out in the hope of fitting both Sanchez and Martial into the team in a way where they can both be successful.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @cmwinterburn
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