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03 Jul 2018

If only Man City and Man Utd swapped Mahrez for Sanchez...

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A disciple of the press

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Mourinho's man

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Right city, wrong clubs?

(Photo credit: Kinan Casem)

As reported by Sky Sports, Riyad Mahrez is finally set to complete his protracted move from Leicester City to Premier League champions Manchester City, for a fee in the region of £60 million.

Despite having numerous bids rebuffed by the 2015/16 title winners, Pep Guardiola has remained intent on capturing the Algerian's signature, who handed in a transfer request for the second time during his time at the King Power Stadium.

The Citizens' pursuit of Mahrez, however, is part of the reason they didn't battle Manchester United for Alexis Sanchez's signature, notwithstanding their emergence as favourites for the Chilean in the summer of last year.

Arsenal's initial refusal to sell, deriving from their inability to procure a replacement swiftly, drove Guardiola away and towards Mahrez, irrespective of compatibility between Sanchez and City.

A disciple of the press

Having played for Barcelona between the years of 2008 and 2011, and representing his country - Chile - since 2006, Sanchez has been coached by a number of impressive managers, including the likes of Pep Guardiola, Jorge Sampaoli and Marcelo Bielsa.

What do all three of those managers have in common? They are staunch advocates of high, off-the-ball pressing out of possession, a method of winning the ball back that begins from the front.

This is a style of football, deriving from Bielsa, that Sampaoli used to guide Chile, then perennial outsiders in CONMENBOL football, to the Copa America in 2015, whilst Guardiola manipulated this to create, arguably, one of the best teams the game has ever seen.

REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 

Just as Guardiola is a disciple of Bielsan football, expressing his "admiration" for him as recently as the beginning of this month, labelling him the "best coach in the world," Sanchez is a disciple of the press.

More than a disciple, in fact, Sanchez's footballing education is essentially rooted in the concept of pressing, having been a feature of the Chilean national team from the impressionable age of 17, coinciding with Bielsa's four-year stint at the helm from 2007 to 2011. As a 22-year-old, moreover, arriving in Barcelona, Sanchez met Guardiola.

As if his pressing education wasn't thorough enough already...

Mourinho's man

The contrast to Mahrez is stark. The Algerian made his way through the lower tiers of the French football pyramid before joining Leicester in 2013, where he's since been coached by Nigel Pearson, Claudio Ranieri, Craig Shakespeare and Claude Puel.

What these managers have in common is that they all play reactive football, a defensive style primarily founded on what their opponents do. It's the complete opposite end of the spectrum to Guardiola's philosophy, and requires a complete different form of discipline than that the Spaniard will demand of him.

Under Ranieri, for example, Mahrez played on the right side of a flat four-man midfield, often needing to double up as an auxiliary fullback as Leicester looked to sit deep, play on the counter and break at speed.

Doesn't this sound familiar to, say, Jose Mourinho?

Mahrez has rarely, if ever, played football on the front foot and is extremely infrequently asked to press from the front, and at the age of 27, it could be something he struggles to adapt to this late in his career.

Right city, wrong clubs?

Has it become the case, therefore, that Manchester City and Manchester United have acquired the wrong wingers? Not only is there a contrast in style, but the Red Devils, particularly, have a dearth of options on the right flank, with Sanchez, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford all more confident on the left.

It leaves just Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard - both typically more used to playing centrally. In this context, therefore, Mahrez - a natural right winger - would have been a perfect fit.

REUTERS/Carlos Barria

The Algerian, moreover, is dispossessed less than twice per Premier League game, an aspect that would appeal to Mourinho's disciplined football.

Sanchez, meanwhile, frequently criticised for giving away the ball, does so nearly three times per game at both Arsenal and United, a trait compensated for by City's immediate high pressing once the ball has been lost.

Ultimately, both have impressive Premier League goal-scoring and chance-creation track records, which makes them both enticing prospects for any club, but their inherent stylistic differences perhaps leaves them in the right city, but at the wrong club.