Did Solskjaer's comment revitalise Alexis Sanchez?
Background image: Prelvini, CC BY-SA 4.0.
Last month, Ole Gunnar Solskajaer insisted Alexis Sanchez would prove everyone wrong before returning to Manchester United. This was met with predictable scoffs and mocking from all around.
Then again, he spoke with confidence about someone effectively loaned out to ensure more minutes to Mason Greenwood. So what has caused the change in heart? Maybe it's United’s inability to clamp out definitive chances through the wings? Maybe he feels the Chilean could add to the squad’s overall experience? Who knows.
While most took the bold claim in jest, Sanchez isn’t laughing. Now unshackled of the injury worries which plagued his early stint at Inter, the 31-year-old seems reinvigorated to help Antonio Conte’s men destroy the Juventus monopoly in Serie A.
That being said, Solskjaer's praises have definitely rubbed him the right way. Despite playing a handful of games under the Norwegian, most coming in substitute cameos- he promised to return back a better player for the Red Devils. Recent performances suggest Sanchez is working on regaining his swagger.
He inspired a turnaround in the Milan derby with a clever assist for Matias Vecino’s equaliser. A week before, Sanchez helped the Nerazzurri seal a win over former club Udinese by earning a game-winning penalty. Alexis again shows signs of his old self, working hard and operating with new-found vigour to galvanise Inter's attack.
Indeed, he’s making those blistering forward-runs into space more often to create definitive opportunities. Lautaro Martinez’s suspension gave him a chance at redemption. He used the opportunity pretty well. However, now with the Argentine dynamite returning to the fray, he’ll get demoted back into the bench. Rather than being demotivated, only upping performance-levels will enable him to play a significant part.
In order to win over Conte’s confidence, his goal-contributions must improve. The Chilean’s added towards a single strike and assist in the league. Nine players have contributed in more, including defenders Stefan de Vrij as well as Antonio Candreva. Averaging just 0.6 shots and 0.6 key passes per game[ WhoScored] indicates a very brittle impact on the Nerazzurri’s attack. But getting 3 shots on target from a meagre 4 attempted suggests he rarely misses the mark.
He was leading from the front with his pressing and energy in the 2nd half, plus the assist for the Vecino goal.
He played with a fire in his belly. https://t.co/WoiPHkJnVb
After leaving Arsenal, he tried transforming himself from a lethal scorer into undertaking creative responsibilities. At United, he averaged higher key passes per 90 [2.22 in 17/18, 1.1 in 18/19] than he did shots [1.6, 0.9]. The reason for Lautaro/Lukaku’s blossoming partnership is their hunger for goals being reflected in their persistent attempts. They’ve averaged 4.3 and 3 shots per 90, validating their success.
Challenging their authority needs him to pump up his rookie numbers. Undertaking the fact his shots normally hit their desire, taking more attempts to test goalkeepers remain his option to get involved in goals. At this point, young Sebastian Esposito sits as Alexis’ closest competitor in the striking department. To change that reputation, the Chilean must continue putting in proactive performances.
In this rotational role, he gets limited time to prove his mettle. It's time he made good use of his chemistry with his former United buddies. Sanchez should make the best use of his cunning movement, getting behind the enemy lines for his team-mates to find him in promising situations, allowing scoring or assisting opportunities.
The clock is ticking. Time isn’t on his side anymore. Unless he can feed off his recent heroics to launch himself to overdrive, there will be no point to all the hard work. It’s high time he rediscovered the clinical wing-forward who once elevated Arsenal.
For Alexis, the equations remain simple. Showcase signs of definite improvement and win back a place in United’s squad or lose his worth of playing in Europe’s top leagues. Whether he rediscovers his swagger or withers further away into mediocrity should be evident after May.