Alexis Sanchez set for Manchester United exit as Inter Milan and Manchester United agree loan deal.
Sanchez got more goals than assists in each of his seasons at Arsenal but that statistic was reversed in both of his campaigns with United. At Arsenal, he had a shot more often than he created a chance for a team-mate. At United, he created a chance for a team-mate more often than he had a shot. It was an inversion of what had made him such a good player.
Hope faded long ago. Last season, Sanchez actually lost possession less often than ever before. In part, that’s because he stopped dribbling. The man who had built his game on being the man to make things happen abdicated that responsibility. Wenger, the coach who trusted him more than anyone, identified a lack of belief as leading to him becoming cowed.
“I believe he has lost confidence,” said Wenger. “The strength of Alexis Sanchez is to show initiative, to dribble, to take people on. These players are the most vulnerable when they have no confidence any more because their game is based on feeling free to take the initiative. He had a high level of physical energy and he has lost that as well.”
In truth, while Sanchez could be careless in possession, this was never the real issue. Like many other top players, Sanchez had always been afforded this responsibility at Arsenal too. He had the freedom to try things because he was the man to make things happen. Some of the most productive players give the ball away. Unfortunately, he was no longer so productive.
Interestingly, his creativity levels remained fairly constant throughout his Premier League career. He even produced assists more regularly at United than he had at Arsenal – think of the two goals that he laid on during that memorable 3-2 win over Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium. He created as much as he ever did but that was never his main strength.
“He was coming into a defensive playing team,” argued Robin van Persie recently. The Dutchman made the same journey north but he had joined Sir Alex Ferguson’s United. Jose Mourinho’s concerns over the team’s defence meant that there was rarely an overlapping full-back able to buy space for Sanchez and there wasn’t the same freedom either.
It proved a toxic combination. There was more onus on Sanchez to make things happen for himself but less space in which to do so. He had fewer touches in the opposition box and attempted more dribbles than ever before in trying to get there – earning unwanted headlines when he ceded possession 36 times in games against Huddersfield and Newcastle.
It was as a striker that Sanchez scored many of his 22 Premier League goals during his final full season at Arsenal – a campaign in which Aguero was the only forward to attempt more shots. The extraordinary dip in shot volume since then is surely the simplest explanation for Sanchez’s lack of goals. It’s not that the shots stopped going in. The shots just stopped.
Sanchez’s success at Arsenal was no flare up. He averaged at least 3.6 shots per 90 minutes in each of his four seasons with the club. As soon as he pulled on a United shirt that changed. He did not even manage half that many shots in either his first season there or his second. He became a different player because he was a different player in United’s system.
I thought he would be a forward who would play all across the line, who scored goals and was tenacious, but he has been an absolute disaster. I have no idea what’s happened to Alexis Sanchez. There must be two of them. The one that we saw playing for Barcelona and Arsenal for years and the one that turned up in Manchester. I have no idea what it is.
Sanchez impressed in Chile’s Copa America campaign this summer, but is yet to feature for United this season after suffering an injury during the third-place play-off.
He did play in a behind-closed-doors friendly against Sheffield United as he continues his rehabilitation.
Inter already signed Romelu Lukaku from United for a fee of around £73m earlier this month.
Sanchez’s imminent departure will leave United with just Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and 17-year-old Mason Greenwood as striking options for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to call upon.
United could be without Martial for a period of time after he suffered a thigh injury in their 2-1 home defeat to Crystal Palace on Saturday.