Should Alexis Sanchez be dropped for Manchester United vs Sevilla?
A season-defining fixture awaits Manchester United on Tuesday night. While Jose Mourinho will still harbour hopes regarding an FA Cup victory, advancing deep into Europe's premier competition remains the priority.
The Champions League has been a fruitful experience for Mourinho; it was where he burst onto the scene with Porto, clinched a historic treble with Inter Milan and led Real Madrid to the semi-finals. In a season that has fallen slightly by the wayside, with rivals Manchester City prohibiting any fabled Mourinho second-season-success, tangible progression would represent progress and bring the sparkle of the heavyweights back to Old Trafford.
With that in mind, Mourinho faces a crunch decision ahead of the visit of Sevilla and will need to negotiate this predicament with the sort of dexterity that has defined his career.
Alexis Sanchez to be dropped?
One goal and two assists are all Sanchez has to boast since his protracted move from Arsenal. It's fair to say that the Chilean has taken longer to settle into his new surroundings than many expected; he has failed to replicate the blistering form and tantalising creative force he showed in North London.
Those writing off the forward's time at Manchester already are beyond folly, veering into the hyperbolic nonsense that dictates social media. The only argument with some merit is one that points out the jarring of Sanchez's attacking endeavour with Mourinho's pragmatic nature, suggesting that he does not complement the ideology Mourinho professes.
Yet Sanchez's lacklustre performances are a symptom of unfamiliar teammates, environment and style. He will come good, rest assured. Still, there is a cogent argument to be had for his dropping against Sevilla, where United can seldom afford coasters.
During United's 2-1 victory over Liverpool, Sanchez's contributions were limited and frustrating. Clearly, he strove to carve out opportunities and he cannot be accused of apathy - which was levelled at him often during his time at the Emirates - but his efforts were fruitless.
There were glimpses of what he can bring: an incisive pass that breached Liverpool's back line and played in Marcus Rashford one instance, but they were too few. To his credit, he continued to probe and prod Jurgen Klopp's back-line, seeking to build a relationship with Romelu Lukaku. Ultimately, his performance had promise rather than productivity: an accumulator that has all selections winning up until the 60th minute, only for those rascals Rochdale and Young Boys U'19s to falter.
If this sounds harsh it is only because of the standards Sanchez has set for himself, and thus it would be remiss for us to judge him by anything less.
Who starts in his place?
Marcus Rashford, one would think, will keep his place after a scintillating and match-winning performance. The Mancunian responded to stories of stagnation emphatically, a well-executed opening goal reminiscent of the cut back then shot that was a staple of Cristiano Ronaldo's time at Old Trafford.
Any discussion of who would replace Sanchez is very much determined by Paul Pogba. Should he recover in time, with Mourinho vague about the extent of the Frenchman's injury, he could be selected in a midfield three of Nemanja Matic and Scott McTominay.
That McTominay is almost certain to start is a testament to the young man's performances of late; against Liverpool, the Scot was composed, unfazed and a calm presence.
If this situation does present itself, Mourinho may be tempted to move Juan Mata further up-field, operating just off Lukaku rather than right of a three where he was stationed against Liverpool. Mata's game naturally means he doesn't adhere to a fixed position and he drifted in-field on Saturday, but the prospect of Mata's guile being in such close proximity to Lukaku and Rashford is an exciting prospect.
Should Pogba be deemed not fit enough, Mourinho may elect to employ Mata in the midfield three or copy the 4-2-3-1 formation he opted with against Liverpool. Both options would suggest either Anthony Martial or Jesse Lingard would be reintroduced. In all likelihood, Mourinho would give Lingard the nod, either in a no.10 position within the confines of a 4-2-3-1 or just off Lukaku, seeing Mata drop into a midfield three.
Dropping Sanchez, then, may not be such an incredulous decision. Mourinho has myriad options and players who provide ample quality and influence. If United are struggling, too, bringing the match-winning ability that Sanchez possesses of the bench may just determine the course of the match.