Manchester United’s hopes of lifting the Champions League have received a huge boost with the stellar signing of Alexis Sanchez as he can “make the difference” for the rest of the season, according to their legendary former centre-back and captain Nemanja Vidic.
The Red Devils pulled off a huge coup this week when they outbid rivals Manchester City to land the electric Chile forward. Armenia playmaker Henrikh Mkhitaryan headed in the opposite direction to Arsenal.
Sanchez, who scored 80 times in 165 games for the Gunners, has been added to the squad, with the further bonus of him being eligible to compete in the knockout stages of Europe’s elite club competition – where La Liga’s Sevilla await in the round of 16 next month.
Ex-Serbia international Vidic lifted that hallowed trophy in 2007/08. This was the highlight of a full-bloodied spell at Old Trafford which featured 15 major honours and 300 appearances from 2006-14 after being plucked from Spartak Moscow for a bargain £7m (Dh44.6m).
Speaking to Sport360° in Dubai to hand over the latest adidas “Cold Blooded” boot pack to the city’s adidas Tango League Captains, the United icon couldn’t wait to witness the new man’s impact.
“I am excited, as well,” said the 36-year-old, who retired in January 2016 after a brief spell in Serie A with Internazionale. “I think he is a player who has played in top clubs before, he has experience, won the trophies and played Champions League.
“It is a good signing for Man United. He brings something different into the team.
“I think we are now in a situation where we are focusing on the Champions League, as [Manchester] City are many points above Man United. Obviously, we never give up on the [Premier League] title, but I think the Champions League is realistic this season.
“I believe we can do a good job.
“As a club, when you want a player like Alexis Sanchez you do not think about City wanting him, Barcelona or someone. You want the player, as you think they can make the difference.
“I think Sanchez is the same. He can change the things for Manchester United, improve the team and help us grow.
“I am glad he signed. Now, we are waiting for him to start and help the team.”
Sanchez, 29, is expected to make his debut on Friday when United travel to League Two’s Yeovil Town in the FA Cup fourth round.
Success under current manager Jose Mourinho has been built from the back.
A leading 14 clean sheets have been kept from their 24 fixtures in this term’s top flight, a main cause for this being the consistent availability of England’s Phil Jones. The 25-year-old has already played more league matches (19) than in his previous two campaigns (18 and 10).
Vidic admitted feeling “very happy” to see his former team-mate become a regular presence on the pitch after years of persistent fitness issues.
He said: “I think Phil always was a top player. But he had a lot of problems with injuries.
“That is human, you can have injuries when you train all the time. With his form, I am very happy for him.
“It is not just him, we’ve had other defenders who’ve been injured. Now, I think we have good defenders.
“[Victor] Lindelof has grown, as well. I think that is important for the team.
“We play a lot of matches, so we need fit players – especially in defence.”
Arsenal began life after Alexis Sanchez with a comeback victory over London rivals Chelsea to reach their first League Cup final in seven years.
Following a goalless first leg at Stamford Bridge, this installment of the semi-final was more akin to the lively Premier League meeting here just 21 days ago and it was Granit Xhaka’s second half strike which set up a Wembley meeting with Manchester City on February 25.
Eden Hazard put the Blues into an early lead only for Arsenal to level through an Antonio Rudiger own goal before Xhaka settled the tie on the hour mark to seal a 2-1 win.
The Gunners were without Henrikh Mkhitaryan, their new signing watching from the stands as he is cup-tied having played in the competition for Manchester United before completing his swap deal with Sanchez on Monday night.
Arsene Wenger’s side won the FA Cup last season by beating Manchester City in the semi-finals and Premier League champions Chelsea in the final and they will have to do it the hard way to lift this trophy for the first time during the Frenchman’s 21-year reign.
Arsenal have not lost to Chelsea in their last six meetings and recovered well from a slow start to extend that run and book a date at Wembley next month.
Pedro tucked away an early chance for Antonio Conte’s side only to be correctly flagged for offside – but the Spaniard was soon involved again, picking the ball up in plenty of space to pick a pass through for Hazard to open the scoring.
Willy Caballero showed great awareness to keep Arsenal out from their first meaningful attack, first blocking at the feet of Jack Wilshere before diving to push the ball clear with Alexandre Lacazette lurking.
Arsenal were soon on level terms, Mesut Ozil whipping in a free-kick which was met by an unmarked Nacho Monreal, whose header ricocheted off both Marcos Alonso and Rudiger before beating Caballero.
Willian dragged a shot well wide as Chelsea looked to reestablish their early lead before both sides settled into the contest.
Ross Barkley was introduced for his Blues debut as Willian hobbled off and, as Arsenal grew in confidence throughout the half, Ozil was unlucky to see a strike deflected behind on the stroke of half-time.
Wenger altered his formation at the interval, dropping Mohamed Elneny back into a three-man defence in an attempt to quieten Hazard.
The Belgium international appeared to have broken through despite those changes, only for Xhaka to launch a superb last-ditch challenge to prevent Hazard getting a shot away.
Having been instrumental at one end, Xhaka would have an impact at the other and he benefited from another fortuitous deflection off Rudiger.
Lacazette did well to keep the ball away from Andreas Christensen and, as he looked for support, his pass hit Rudiger and flashed across goal where Xhaka steered it home to put the hosts in front.
Alex Iwobi saw a great chance well saved by Caballero as Arsenal looked to put the tie beyond doubt but, after another defensive tactical tweak from Wenger, they saw at the game with relative ease.
India’s football federation, the All India Football Federation (AIFF), will conduct trials for Indian boys in the UAE born between 2001 and 2003 on Friday.
The aim is to find players for India’s junior teams, including the U-16 team which will compete in this year’s AFC U-16 Championship in Malaysia. India’s U-16 team is currently in UAE for practice matches as part of their preparation for the tournament, which will be held in September and October of this year.
India held similar trials in 2016, when 240 players attended the trials, five of whom were called up to a national team camp.
Abhishek Yadav, AIFF Director of National teams, said, “the last time we invited five players to join the camp apart from a few others who showed a spark for the future. Beyond the talent itself, the attitude of several parents was something that gave me confidence that an Indian player residing in the UAE could break into an Indian squad”.
The AIFF is looking to build on the momentum of last year’s FIFA U-17 World Cup, held in India in October. Both FIFA and the AIFF were pleased with the success of that tournament, and now India is looking to cash in on that success to boost football in a cricket-crazy country.
India’s trials in Dubai and other selection camps that could be held this year are part of planning ahead for the 2021 FIFA U-20 World Cup and the 2024 Paris Olympics, with a view to finding young players who could help India qualify for both tournaments.
Registration form can be downloaded from http://bit.do/AIFFscouting