Alexis Sanchez is struggling to settle in at Manchester United, with his display against Crystal Palace on Monday night the latest in a collection of underwhelming performances since his January move from Arsenal.
Such difficulties can always happen with winter signings. Regardless of Sanchez’s Premier League experience, it takes time to settle into a new system, get used to new teammates, and establish an understanding with a new manager.
Yet there’s no doubt that the Chilean’s form is becoming a cause for concern. On Monday, he had only three touches in the Palace box, as he constantly dropped deep in an attempt to influence the game – a habit that is a cause for his struggles, and United’s.
Club legend and Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville said it best after Monday’s game: “Alexis was poor tonight, there’s no doubt about that. He was trying to play one-twos from 40 yards from goal. He is no good from there.
“For me, I see Alexis Sanchez as being at his best in the left channel, attacking defenders, committing them, playing one-two combination. He has to try and get in those positions for Manchester United.”
As Neville points out, Sanchez’s most effective position is indeed on the left wing, but that is a position where Marcus Rashford and especially Anthony Martial thrive – United visibly improved against Palace once Rashford was brought on at halftime to play on that flank.
Neither one is as good as Sanchez in the position, but their effectiveness – and again, especially Martial’s – drops when they’re played on the right to accommodate the new recruit, whereas Sanchez is still a capable player on the right or even through the middle.
But while Jose Mourinho sorts out this positional headache, Sanchez has taken it upon himself to try to prove himself – thus leading to his propensity to drop deep as he tries to maximise his influence.
It hasn’t worked. Sanchez has two assists and one goal in eight United appearances across all competitions.
His key passes metric has dropped from three per 90 minutes in the league for Arsenal to 1.4 for his new team. Most tellingly, he is losing the ball far too often: 34 times on Monday, and 36 times in two separate recent fixtures, against Newcastle and Huddersfield. No other United player has lost possession so many times in a single game this season.
His dropping deep also reduces the impact Paul Pogba is able to have, as Sanchez ends up demanding the ball in positions Pogba would normally take up. Working out the kinks in the on-field relationship between those two is another challenge on Mourinho’s hands.
I'm going to defend Sanchez, Some of our fans expected him to hit the ground running, Don't jump on his back too quick, He only joined us under 2 months ago, Give him time— Matthew (@Carrick4united) March 6, 2018
Sanchez’s versatility affords Mourinho plenty of options. He can push Sanchez further forward, as a nominal No10 but playing just off central striker Romelu Lukaku (and dropping deep as little as possible).
Keep him on the right flank and trust Martial and Rashford to maintain their standards on the left. Play him on the left and pick Juan Mata over Martial and Rashford on the right – the Spaniard is United’s best player on that flank, and his introduction on Monday was another key factor in the Red Devils’ comeback.
Mourinho could even try Sanchez as a central striker to give Lukaku some rest – some of Sanchez’s best displays for Arsenal came playing effectively as a false 9.
With Saturday’s north-west derby against Liverpool and next week’s crucial Champions League second-leg fixture against Sevilla coming up, the manager needs to quickly figure out how to get the best from his new signing.
Since the former United manager’s retirement in 2013, the team have often appeared to lack many of the traits they consistently demonstrated during his reign. Their refusal to accept defeat while the Scot was in charge inspired some of their highest-profile wins.
They have gradually improved since Jose Mourinho’s appointment in 2016, but while it remains to be seen whether the Portuguese can bring back the glory days they enjoyed under Ferguson, the response on Monday was perhaps the clearest indication of his ability to do so.
United trailed to goals from Andros Townsend and Patrick van Aanholt, the second of which came moments after Mourinho’s introduction of Marcus Rashford as a half-time substitute and the manager’s adoption of a more attacking shape. Smalling, Romelu Lukaku and then, in stoppage time, Nemanja Matic then each scored to secure an unlikely victory.
The three vital points took United back up to second in the Premier League.
Asked if the performance and spirit reminded him of playing under Ferguson, the 28-year-old Smalling said: “Yeah, it did. There’s not been many games where we’ve come back – granted, there’s not many games when we’ve gone 2-0 down – but you can see how close we are as a group that everyone celebrated together, and how much it means to us, because that was a huge win.
“Our intensity really increased and you could see probably four of (Palace’s) guys cramping up, and that gave us that edge where we thought we could go after them. Even when it was 2-2, where in some games you’d probably take that after being 2-0 down, we went after them. It was great.
“It shows that no matter how bad we might be playing in that first half, that we can go after teams. Doing it away from home – our home record’s a lot better than our away form – that’s a huge win.
“We walked in (at half-time) and already knew we weren’t playing enough, needed to increase it, and conceded so early as well (in the second half) with a sloppy goal. We had everything in front of us to do, and we did it.”
Defeat was regardless cruel on relegation-threatened Palace, who remain 18th and without a victory in six despite playing well.
Townsend had continued to impress after scoring the opening goal.
But after Palace’s second defeat in a row following a late goal – they previously conceded in the closing stages to Tottenham in a 1-0 reverse when also impressing – Townsend told the club’s official website: “Everyone is devastated.
“Twice in eight days we’ve thoroughly deserved at least a point, if not all three. We’ve been undone by a bit of quality right at the end.”
Provided by Press Association Sport
Support for Arsene Wenger from the Arsenal fanbase appears to be waning after eighty-eight per cent of a prominent supporters group voted in favour of his contract being terminated at the end of the season.
The Arsenal Supporters’ Trust canvassed their 1,000 members ahead of their annual general meeting on Monday night, with those who responded overwhelmingly calling for the Frenchman’s 21-year tenure to come to a close.
The Gunners lost a fourth game in a row following a 2-1 defeat at Brighton on Sunday which leaves Wenger’s side 13 points off the top-four.
A large majority of travelling supporters at the AMEX Stadium chanted “we want Wenger out”, with the club 33 points adrift of runaway leaders City and closer to the foot of the Premier League table than the summit.
During the current run, Arsenal were outclassed by Manchester City in the Carabao Cup final having already seen their FA Cup defence end with defeat at Nottingham Forest in the third round.
The only remaining hope for silverware, and a return to the Champions League, is to win the Europa League with Arsenal’s first leg of their round of 16 clash against AC Milan taking place in the San Siro on Thursday.
Arsene Wenger has today spoken with majority shareholder Stan Kroenke who has reiterated his full support for him to continue until the end of next season. Kroenke has urged the board to get behind the Arsenal manager for another season with a view to a possible renewal #AFC— David Ornstein (@aliladiere) March 6, 2018
Ahead of that game, the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust (AST) held their annual general meeting.
And, following a run of eight defeats in 13 games, the majority of respondents to a members’ survey were clear what they wanted to see.
“In a survey conducted online & at tonight’s meeting 88 per cent of AST members vote for Arsenal ending Arsene Wenger’s contract when position reviewed this summer (seven per cent for staying on and five per cent don’t know yet),” a tweet from the AST Twitter account read.
Arsenal went through a similarly poor run of form at the same stage of last season, losing seven in 12 before chief executive Ivan Gazidis said those results would be a “catalyst for change”.
Wenger’s position was uncertain during that spell as his contract was due to expire but, despite Gazidis’ words and a number of matchday protests and marches, he penned a new two-year deal after guiding Arsenal to a third FA Cup in four years.
AST held a similar vote 12 months ago where 78 per cent of respondents called on no new contract to be offered to Wenger and, despite that recent FA Cup success, more of the trustees now want the 68-year-old removed from office.
Asked after a 3-0 Premier League reverse to Manchester City last Thursday, Wenger said: “I’m always ready for a fight. I’m of course very disappointed but I’ve experienced these situations before. I’ve faced difficult situations in my life and it helps to deal with that.”
Defeat to Milan over two legs could see the most difficult of situations presented to Wenger, who has also now conceded he had to be “realistic” of the importance the Europa League now holds.
Provided by Press Association Sport