Sanchez is all-action hero, Pogba problem persists and other Man United talking points

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Alexis Sanchez and Paul Pogba celebrate after victory at Old Trafford.

Manchester United roared to a 2-0 triumph against Huddersfield on Saturday in the Premier League – and now the post mortem is under way.

Here, we examine the major talking points from the contest:

Sanchez is United’s all-action man

Delve deeper into Alexis Sanchez’s bow at the Theatre of Dreams and the statistics are truly remarkable.

No player has been fouled more often in a Premier League game this season than he was against the Terriers. However, the Chile forward lost possession more than any United player has in the top-flight this term.

He was also ranked first for United in terms of shots, shots on target, dribbles and tackles made.

When Jose Mourinho’s teams are often accused of being sterile, Sanchez is clearly the antidote.

For so long, United fans looked on in envy at the match winners dotted elsewhere; Chelsea with Eden Hazard, Liverpool with Philippe Coutinho, Manchester City with David Silva – and many, many others – plus Sanchez at Arsenal.

With January’s capture of the Chile superstar, they have a spark. Now, it’s time for him to light the ignition.

Lukaku gets a welcome lift

A sense of relief rained down on Old Trafford when Romelu Lukaku opened the scoring after the interval.

Not only was this goal – and a well-taken one it was, the Belgium centre forward hooking in an uncomfortable volley at the near post – the blessed opener, it saw the provider get his name on the scoresheet in the Premier League for just the second time in his last seven matches.

This run has clearly impacted a popular figure in the United dressing room. All of his team-mates swamped him in the corner in celebration, Lukaku looking moved by the moment.

United’s form has mirrored the summer buy from Everton. They both raced out of the blocks, Lukaku getting 11 strikes in 11 games as his new club looked to keep chase with Manchester City.

Then, the tap was turned off. Only seven goals followed in the next 25 matches, before Saturday’s quality finish.

Lukaku and the United faithful will hope this is the start of another hot streak for the Red Devil.

The Pogba problem

For all the excitement about Sanchez, a glaring issue remains.

Manager Jose Mourinho followed up his early hooking of Paul Pogba in the meek midweek chasing at Tottenham by benching his £89 million mega buy.

This continued a curious season for the France centre midfielder. A combination of injuries and suspensions have restricted him to just 16 top-flight games, yet only Man City’s Kevin De Bruyne (11) and Leroy Sane (10) boast more assists than his nine.

He was awful against Spurs, yet this was his first defeat in the Premier League in a record 36 matches.

Pogba was lambasted for his tactical naivety by ‘The Special One’, who continues to regularly place him in the same ill-fitting defensive-midfield role in which he underwhelmed at Euro 2016.

Now, the shocking solution seems to be to park the problem on the substitutes’ bench. Clearly, this approach isn’t sustainable – it was surely designed to impart a lesson.

But this process should be two-fold. Mourinho must choose a positioning that works for Pogba – on the left-hand side of a three-man midfield, like the Everton triumph and from his days at Juventus – and his main outfield asset has to adhere to a collective tactical plan.

With Jesse Lingard in fine fettle against Huddersfield, Juan Mata expertly pulling the strings and Sanchez undroppable because of his immediate impact, it won’t be an easy fix.

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Aaron Ramsey shows his worth and other things learned from Arsenal 5-1 Everton

Matt Jones 4/02/2018
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Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang celebrates for Arsenal.

The feel-good factor returned to Emirates Stadium on Saturday as the new-look Arsenal inflicted a 5-1 defeat on sorry Everton.

Manager Arsene Wenger’s January renovation drew instant reward as striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored on debut and Armenia playmaker Henrikh Mkhitaryan got a hat-trick of assists. He wasn’t the only player with a trio to celebrate, Wales midfielder Aaron Ramsey running away with the match ball.

Here, we look at the major talking points:

Mkhitaryan just needs a hug

Henrikh Mkhitaryan is the quintessential confidence player, and during his time under Jose Mourinho at Manchester United, his meandered further and further downhill until all that remained was a shell of a fine player.

It might only be two games into his Arsenal career, and his first start might have been against a woefully poor Everton side, but he already looks rejuvenated by his move to the Emirates. Arsene Wenger is much more likely to provide an arm around the shoulder of Mkhitaryan – named the Bundesliga’s Players’ Player of the Season in his final campaign with Borussia Dortmund in 2015/16 – something the Armenian desperately needed during his fitful time lurching from the brilliant to bystander at Old Trafford.

Mkhitaryan provided two assists against the Toffees, his second to set up former Dortmund team-mate Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was wondrous, while a shot from distance that narrowly missed Jordan Pickford’ goal in the first half provide a glimpse of what else he can provide when on top of his game.

Aubameyang arrival can truly fire Gunners

Although they lost a player of supreme skill in Alexis Sanchez, the dual arrival of former Dortmund teammates Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan will rightly have Arsenal fans licking their lips at the possibilities for their team moving forward with this pair pulling the strings of their attack.

Aubameyang’s temperament during his drawn-out departure from Westphalia has been drawn into question, and may not have exactly filled Wenger with confidence at a time when he’s trying to instill harmony to his dressing room. But in one moment of first half magic, the Gabon striker provided a glimpse of what he is all about. He’s a lethal finisher and while Alexandre Lacazette has settled in well to life in London, Aubameyang is on another level, one of the deadliest marksmen around.

Calm, composed and clinical, he is the world-class striker they’ve been crying out for since the heyday of Thierry Henry. And while it won’t happen this season, his goals can help Arsenal become a Premier League title contender.

Aubameyang in full flight for Arsenal.

Aubameyang in full flight for Arsenal.

Aarson Ramsey provides true value when fully fit

Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang are who Arsenal fans are excited about, but the star of the show here was undoubtedly Aaron Ramsey. The Wales maestro has provided class in fits and starts during a tenure with the Gunners that stretches into a decade this year.

But while injuries have marred his career, there is little debate that the man nicknamed ‘Rambo’ is a man who Wenger names as the first man in his squad when his midfield general is fit.

Ramsey is still only 27 and if he stays fit – and that’s monumentally sized ‘if’ – he can provide the guile and craft from deep that the Gunners have been craving since Santi Cazorla’s serious injury. His second and third goals yesterday pushed Ramsey past a memorable milestone; he has now been directly involved in 101 goals in all competitions for Arsenal (53 goals, 48 assists).

Mohamed Elneny and Granit Xhaka are talented players, but in that midfielder engine room, Arsenal need a player with poise and patience. If Ramsey and Jack Wilshere can collectively put their injury nightmares behind them, and with the caliber of Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan joining them, Arsenal finally have the tools to transform themselves from perennial laughing stocks to Premier League powerhouses once more.

Mangala looks a monumental mistake

Eliaquim Mangala has been an unmitigated disaster as a Premier League player, so quite why Sam Allardyce thought he was a suitable acquisition during the winter transfer window is puzzling. Okay, so he beefs up a fragile backline that has looked porous all season.

But the Frenchman is far too ponderous and has been found out on numerous occasions, particularly against free-flowing teams with rapid attackers.

He was slow reacting to Aaron Ramsey’s deflected second goal and hardly provided strength and stability to an incredibly shaky Everton backline – one that conceded four first half goals for the first time in the Premier League – despite consisting of five players.

An article leading up to the game claimed Mangala would bring balance to an Everton side without a left-footed player in the squad – apart from injured left-back Leighton Baines.

His signing might provide Allardyce with more left-footed options, but if the Toffees were hoping to get out of the sticky situation they find themselves in, Mangala is not the man to kick off their shackles.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan battles with Eliaquim Mangala (r).

Henrikh Mkhitaryan battles with Eliaquim Mangala (r).

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Analysis as Alexis Sanchez is hailed by Man United as a new superstar

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Alexis Sanchez had a home debut to savour for Manchester United as he inspired a 2-0 victory against Huddersfield.

The Chile superstar put in a live-wire display, crowned by a second goal for the club in three matches as he followed in his own missed penalty.

Here, we analyse the electric performance of the Chile superstar.

STATISTICS 

Goals – 1

Assists – 0

Shots – 6

Shots on target – 3

Touches – 120

Passes – 77

Key passes – 3

Dribbles – 9

Dispossessed – 5

30-SECOND REPORT

This was the type of all-action, maximum-return performance that United desired when they invested so much money in the forward.

His quick feet were witnessed for the first time at United in home colours when he cut inside several defenders and forced a smart save from 20 yards by Jonas Lossl. But a petulant side stained the rest of the first half, clearly diving in the penalty box and then letting his frustration at being kicked off the park get the better of him on the stroke of half-time when he hacked Florent Hadergjonaj for a clear booking.

Spurred on by the terriers’ bite in the tackle, he made the second half his own. Visiting skipper Tommy Smith and Netherlands defender Terence Kongolo had to be alert to produce fine blocks, before his quick feet drew a foul from the clumsy Michael Hefele for the penalty he converted at the second attempt.

Sanchez was ranked first for United in shots, shots on target, dribbles, losses of possession, fouls against and tackles. A complete display which will cheer manager Jose Mourinho.

GOT RIGHT

Providing a spark – Sanchez was simply everywhere. United’s attack has looked prosaic for far too long, despite a wealth of talent. The supreme contribution and desire of their new signing against sides which simply come to defend should prevent repeats of the dropped points already accrued this season against also rans such as Southampton, Burnley, Huddersfield (away) and Stoke.

Dribbling machine – When teams have stacked up their defences, United have too often failed to find the answer. The nine dribbles by Sanchez represents their highest tally in the league all season.

GOT WRONG

Keeping his cool – Being fouled is nothing new for Sanchez. Yet his reaction just before the break was unwarranted. Silly bookings can come to sting at the end of the season.

Stop the diving – Players can get reputations in the Premier League and it will not have gone unnoticed how easily Sanchez went to ground on several occasions. With his awesome set-piece delivery, he does not want to be denied possible opportunities by suspicious referees.

Alexis Sanchez celebrates his goal against Huddersfield.

Alexis Sanchez celebrates his goal against Huddersfield.

KEY MOMENTS

27th min CHANCE: Put on the afterburners and made Lossl spring across his goal to push away from 20 yards

29th min DIVE: Sanchez should feel embarrassed if he watches this moment back. Went down screaming for a penalty when Kongolo made no contact.

45th min +2 BOOKING: Looked to give retribution and picked on Hadergjonaj.

47th min CHANCE: Showed dancing feet inside the box and his shot was kept out by Smith.

48th min CHANCE: Same scenario saw Kongolo come to the rescue.

68th min PENALTY MISS AND GOAL: After being upended seconds earlier by Hefele, his low efforts to the left was blocked by Lossl. Kept a steely eye to slot in the rebound for a debut goal at Old Trafford.

73rd minute GREAT PASS: Tees up substitute Paul Pogba, but his effort is skewed wide.

VERDICT

United could have asked for little more from their new hero on home soil. He looked rejuvenated after his half season spent sulking at Arsenal.

Sanchez’s sights will now be set on repeating such antics in the Champions League on February 21 for the visit to La Liga’s Sevilla in the round of 16.

RATING: 8/10

All statistics are compiled using whoscored.com

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