The Redemption of Alexis Sanchez

Image from Getty Images

By the time the final whistle blew at Old Trafford on May 12th, bringing the curtain down on a pretty dire season, most fans were convinced that the curtain was also coming down on Alexis Sanchez's equally dire United career. From the moment he first pulled on a United shirt something just didn't quite seem right, it was as if he was carrying an injury. 'It'll be alright', we all thought, 'he'll come good, just wait and see'. So we waited, and waited, then the 2017/18 season ended and we somehow convinced ourselves that what he needed was a good pre-season. When he eventually made it to the USA for United's summer tour (after initially being denied a visa because of a Spanish tax fraud conviction) Sanchez was one of United's standout performers - particularly in the 1-1 draw with AC Milan where he was by far the best player on the pitch, and the 2-1 win against Real Madrid where he scored the opener and provided the assist for Herrera's match winning strike.

When the 2018/19 season rolled around the stage was set for Sanchez to shake off the troubles that had beset him in his first campaign, however the new season started where the previous one had left off, with him showing flashes of his ability while for the most part being ineffective. Although it's true that injuries hampered his progress, Sanchez was fit for most of Solskjaer's miraculous run of early results and it's telling that he didn't score in any of those Premier League games. United's season ground to a halt amid rumours of an unsettled dressing room, with one of the supposed issues being Sanchez's £26 million salary, which his performances simply do not justify. The fans had seen enough and wanted him out as the stats don’t lie, in fact many thought that he was in danger of being hit with another fraud charge, this time for falsely claiming to be a world class footballer.
Here's a look at Sanchez's goal per game ratio whilst playing in Europe:

Udinese

Games: 112
Goals: 21
Ratio: 1 goal every 5.3 games

Barcelona

Games: 114
Goals: 47
Ratio: 1 goal every 3 games

Arsenal

Games: 166
Goals: 80
Ratio: 1 goal every 2.1 games

Manchester United

Games: 45
Goals: 5
Ratio: 1 goal every 11 games

Source: Wikipedia

As you can clearly see, his form hasn't just dipped; it's fallen off a cliff. So that's that, right? Surely there's no way back for him at United, not now the gaffer is looking to rebuild, right? Maybe not.

Copa America

Image from Independent Digital News & Media Limited 
Reputations mean nothing at Manchester United. If you're picked to play, you do the job that the manager asks of you, and if you do it well you might get picked again next week, which goes for anyone at the club whether you're an international superstar or an academy graduate making your first appearance. With the Chilean national team, your reputation (or at least that of Sanchez) means everything. Despite the poor form and niggling injuries which have dogged his United career, as the most capped player and highest goalscorer in Chile's history he's the first name on Reinaldo Rueda's team sheet, because in Chile Alexis Sanchez has an almost god-like status. 

For the Chileans, the strategy of picking their best starting XI, regardless of club form, is reaping dividends in this year's Copa America, with Sanchez being the main beneficiary. He's been man of the match in all four games, scoring two goals, providing one assist and netting the winning penalty in the shootout after drawing 0-0 in the quarter-final against Colombia. In a completely free attacking role he's managed to roll back the years and is producing the kind of sparkling, inventive forward play that earned him the nickname 'El Niño Maravilla' (The Wonder Child). With a very winnable semi-final against Peru up next on Wednesday evening (Thursday morning UK time), who would bet against Sanchez and Chile lifting the oldest continental trophy in world football for a third consecutive tournament?

What the Copa America has shown is that Alexis Sanchez is far from finished as a footballer, although it's clear that to get the best out of him he can't be shackled by any defensive duties. Tracking back and closing down just isn't in his repertoire. So the blueprint is there if Solskjaer wants to replicate it and if he doesn't, then maybe Sanchez has played his way onto the wish list of the managers of one or two of Europe's elite clubs. Either way, what's good for El Roja of Chile could be very good for the Reds of Manchester.

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