Manchester United must not stop at Alexis Sanchez
Excitement is tangible at Old Trafford. A flurry of developments have left fans dreaming of glory. Manchester United is expected to complete the signing of Alexis Sanchez early in the week. The Chilean is rumored to be on a £450k/wk deal. The 29-year-old had been expected to join Manchester City but superior wages, promise of more prominent status, and an irrefutable offer to Arsenal has changed the situation for the Chilean striker. The fact United has trumped the league leaders is a statement of intent. City have been put on alert. Seemingly overnight, theirs has become the most tenuous 12-point advantage ever heard.
Liverpool's 4-3 defeat of Manchester City shone a beaming light on the path to stopping the runaway leaders. Pep Guardiola's side had been unbeaten in ten going into Anfield. The only other defeat had been a Champions League dead rubber in the Ukraine against Shakhtar Donetsk. The Catalan had been more concerned with getting through the obligatory trip healthy, his best players rested for the upcoming Manchester Derby. It had been the only black mark in 32 competitive outings until the Reds' attack proved the more dangerous Merseyside.
Pep entered January comfortable and assured. Then Jose Mourinho brushed aside his war of words with Antonio Conte to challenge the Etihad boss' move for Sanchez. Perhaps that was sufficient distraction to give Jurgen Klopp an edge. Regardless, Guardiola was suddenly finding avenues to further success blocked.
United signing Sanchez means it, rather than City, has a player hungry for success. Old Trafford will house a two-time Copa America champion angry he has no Premier League title but confident he can go through the Etihad to get it. Given the player once played for Guardiola at Barcelona, the City boss knows the exact measure of that threat.
Last summer Jose Mourinho didn’t get all the players he wanted. His statement that £300 million wasn’t enough to compete for the title, a slight dig at the United hierarchy that had failed to get the Ivan Perisic deal over the line, wasn't taken seriously at first. The Red Devils hadn't been outspent by much. Nonetheless it was Mourinho letting it be known he intended to do whatever it would take to bring a title to Manchester's red half.
For all the buzz surrounding Sanchez's arrival, Mou cannot ease up. More world class arrivals are needed to ensure United is again a team that can stand toe to toe with any side in England or Europe. The squad has only a splatter of world class players. David de Gea. Paul Pogba. Nemanja Matic.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is in decline. Anthony Martial has better numbers this season than Sanchez but hasn't shown the requisite consistency. Romelu Lukaku hasn't the sense of moment. Marcus Rashford needs further seasoning. Eric Bailly and Luke Shaw must stay healthy. Jesse Lingard is already overachieving.
For a team with serious ambition, its quality pales in comparison to Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona, Juventus, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, and Manchester City. Especially City. The noisy neighbours. More signings are needed to make United undisputed challengers. Sanchez will add stardust to the attack but there remain a number of passengers in the United squad.
Matteo Darmian, Daley Blind, Ander Herrera, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic must be let go. None have offered their usual quality this season due to form and injury concerns. To jettison Herrera, a booking waiting to happen, Mourinho must first extend Marouane Fellaini, whose deal is expiring. Darmian is a solid reserve, always doing a job when called upon. The problem is now that Luke Shaw has found form, he isn't being called. Daley Blind is third choice left back and fifth or sixth choice centerback. He isn't perfect in either role. Ibra has a long road to recovery from his knee injury. At 36, it's asking a lot.
When people look at the rest of the Champions League contenders, there are players who can’t get into the starting eleven but are good enough for any other team in the division. United simply aren't that deep.
When Pogba was injured, United went into crisis. There wasn't another player with his vision, ball control, and power to pull the strings. If Matic is unavailable the defence is exposed. No one has been able to spell Lukaku while the Belgian tries to rediscover his form. De Gea has been keeping the team in matches far too often.
A strong, healthy centre-half partnership rather than the whoever-can-stand-on-two-feet selection process the boss is now forced to make would also be nice.
United will only have a true chance at success when Mourinho is given the players he desires. No one appreciates quality all over the pitch more than The Portuguese. He takes no prisoners