Manchester United: Does Alexis Sánchez finally have the monkey off his back?
The Chilean produced his first decisive moment of real quality since joining Manchester United, and it may be the springboard he needs to thrive
At long last… 68 days since his move to Manchester United, Alexis Sánchez has started to look a little more like his former self.
Picking up the ball at the edge of the area with 20 minutes played against Swansea, the Chilean didn’t hesitate or overthink. He did what we have come to expect of him – he set himself, calibrated his sights, and fired into the bottom corner.
It wasn’t a stunning goal but it was a good one and only his second in the league since moving to the North West
It was certainly more convincing than the penalty rebound with which he opened his account against Huddersfield a month ago.
Things haven’t clicked for Sánchez at United
Ever since he moved from Arsenal at the end of January, there has been a cloud over Sánchez. He has looked desperate to make the move work but rumours have already circulated that he is an isolated figure in the dressing room and he has been a long way from his best on the pitch.
He has looked a player trying to play at 45 RPM while his teammates have been at 33 – something has just been off, a setting not quite right somewhere in his wiring. He has hustled and bustled and tried to make an impact, but lost the ball more than any other player in the league.
In hindsight, it shouldn’t have been surprising. The cloud was mostly of his own making, an inevitable by-product of his self-engineered fall from grace at the Emirates.
It simply wasn’t realistic to expect him to go from playing at 50% to rediscover his best form. He hadn’t been in love with football in his final few months at Arsenal. Something needed to rekindle the spark.
A much-needed break
It had seemed that what he needed was a break, the summer of respite that Chile’s failure to qualify for the World Cup would give him. Absence would make the heart grow stronger and he would return rested, refocused, and ready to fire.
But if this goal against Swansea does prove to be the jumpstart he needed for a late-season renaissance, it perhaps is fitting that it comes just after an international break.
Sánchez didn’t rest during those two off weeks. He had international trips to Sweden and Denmark to contend with, starting both matches for his country as Chile won one and drew one.
They and he did not set the world alight, but wearing his country’s shirt for the first time since his World Cup dream was ended in October will have been a rejuvenating experience for him.
A greater innocence in the international game
Sánchez loves playing for his country. The childhood dreams of pulling on the shirts of Barcelona and Manchester United, perhaps the two biggest clubs in world football, have been achieved but it is unlikely anything he has accomplished in his career will mean more to him than the instrumental role he played in back-to-back Copa América titles in 2015 and 2016.
Playing for Chile, there would be no talk of the ludicrous wage he earns for every appearance at Manchester United.
Playing for Chile, there would be no envious peeks at the league table and the Manchester City side he looked so certain to join.
Playing for Chile, there would be no question marks about his ability to fit into a functional but unspectacular and generally underachieving team, stacked with handsomely paid superstars.
International football represents more of what made Sánchez fall in love with football as a youngster than the domestic money-spinning career he has turned it into. Maybe the much-maligned international friendly – football for the sake of football – was what he needed to remind him of the freedom he used to play with.
Time will tell. Likely, we won’t see the very best of him again until after a summer’s rest and a full pre-season, if at all.
But one moment can have a big impact on a player, especially a player who thrives on his own self-perpetuating confidence to the extent of Sánchez. He may just have rediscovered his spark.
Do you think that Alexis Sánchez has turned a corner for Manchester United? Let us know by commenting below.