Alexis Sanchez’s arrival at Manchester United hasn’t exactly clicked so far. We opine why it might have been a poor transfer decision by the Red Devils.
It was a transfer decision that came out of nowhere. Alexis Sanchez, whose Arsenal career was set to wind down in the January transfer window, was linked with a belated move to Manchester City for the longest time, especially considering the Premier League leaders had failed with a deadline day move last summer.
But, Manchester United swooped at the last moment to propose Arsenal a deal they just couldn’t refuse. The Red Devils offered Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who had become a peripheral figure at Old Trafford, as part of a swap deal to land Sanchez. The Gunners accepted with open arms, and the Chilean was quickly on his way to Manchester United.
In the process, Jose Mourinho had acquired a player who might not have showcased his best talents till that point in the season, but was certainly a force to be reckoned with on his day, as evidenced by his exploits in the 2016-17 season. But, the ensuing months since his arrival at Old Trafford have been those of struggles.
Sanchez has managed to find the back of the net just two times, and has looked a pale shadow of the player who had singlehandedly led Arsenal’s charge in all competitions for much of last season. More than his personal struggles though, there are problems aplenty that have arisen at Manchester United.
Mourinho had brought Sanchez to Old Trafford in order to bolster what had already been a reasonably prolific attacking unit up until January. The Chilean was supposed to be the antidote that would help transform Manchester United into genuine Premier League title contenders. They look anything but at the moment.
Not only has Sanchez’s struggles heaped pressure on the rest of his teammates in attack, his arrival has created problems where there weren’t any to begin with. In particular, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford have unprecedented positional uncertainties in Mourinho’s side.
Till the Chilean was signed, Mourinho had perhaps, identified an effective solution to bring the best out of the young duo. In what was a productive way of juggling them, the Manchester United boss started one of the players on the left flank before introducing the other sometime in the second half to force tiring defenders into submission.
By January, they had scored 20 goals between them, with Martial in particular, looking a player reborn following a difficult maiden campaign under Mourinho. Since Sanchez’s arrival though, Martial is yet to find the back of the net, while Rashford has scored thrice, two of those when deployed on the left against Liverpool.
But, starts on the left flank have been rare to come by for both Martial and Rashford, with Mourinho preferring to deploy Sanchez in the slot instead. As a result, the duo have been shunted to the right wing on most occasions they have been afforded a start over the last two months.
On the right flank though, neither player has been able to had any effect whatsoever as they seldom cut in on their weaker foot, while they aren’t exactly renowned for their deliveries either, thus losing their unpredictability to cut in at any moment to catch back-pedalling defenders off guard.
With Juan Mata being more effective on the right flank, both players are now having to bide their time on the bench as Sanchez continues to start – and struggle – on the left. And consequently, Mourinho still doesn’t have a natural right-sides player that he has been yearning for since last summer.
Thus, the signing of Sanchez has created a heavy imbalance in the Manchester United attack, wherein the three most unpredictable players in Mourinho’s squad – and three of the six attackers in all at his disposal – prefer playing on the left flank. On the flipside, there is absolutely no one who can provide that unpredictability on the opposite flank.
But wait, there’s more, with a certain Paul Pogba looking far from his best as well. A closer look would suggest that Sanchez might have something to do with an alarming drop in the Frenchman’s form as well.
While a lot has been made out about Pogba’s insistence to play on the left side of a midfield trio, he has been deployed in the area even in a pivot in recent games, and that is where the real problem arises, irrespective of the formation employed by Mourinho.
In the buildup of Manchester United attacks, one could usually find Pogba just behind the halfway line, looking to find teammates in pockets of spaces with his pinpoint passing, short or long. But, with Sanchez in the side now, the Chilean often drops deep in the buildup of attacks, taking up spaces that the midfielder ideally should.
As a result, Pogba now plays even deeper in order to do something with the ball at his feet, which has rendered him highly ineffective as conventional wisdom would suggest he needs to be closer to the opposition box than his, with the latter being the case of late. Possibly a big part of the reason why Pogba has been struggling recently as well.
Then there’s his astronomical salary which has shattered the wage structure at Manchester United. The sizeable pay package could unsettle the big-name players, Pogba, David De Gea, et al, especially when the time comes for them to renew terms at the club.
There have already been murmurings that notorious agent Mino Raiola will look to get Pogba an amount nearer to what Sanchez is rumoured to be earning to justify his status within Mourinho’s squad. His staggering wages could also hold up negotiations in future transfer pursuits as potential recruits could demand similar salaries.
More than these off field issues though, Mourinho’s biggest task at the moment is to solve the problems he has constantly been encountering on it, with Manchester United looking anything but a fluid unit going forward, in stark contrast to the pre-Sanchez era.
The Manchester United boss could also be grappling with a number of questions as the summer transfer window fast approaches. How does he breed cohesion within his side with Sanchez in it? Where do Martial and Rashford play? Can Sanchez and Pogba coexist within the same side?
One possible solution could see Mourinho experimenting by deploying Sanchez on the right flank to give Martial/Rashford and Pogba the spaces they need to be occupying. But, the manager has so far, preferred to do just the opposite, and it remains to be seen how he solves the multitude of issues that the Chilean has brought with himself.
There might have been a feeling of a small triumph when Manchester United stole a march on their neighbours to land Sanchez in January. But, was it really a triumph? Only Mourinho can answer the question as he looks to untangle the mess that the Chilean’s arrival has created as he looks to restore Manchester United right back at the very top of English football.