We really need to talk about Alexis Sanchez
The Sevilla defeat was the excruciating nadir of Alexis Sanchez's time at Manchester United
We had been warned. But perhaps, in the whirlwind of excitement that accompanied Manchester United stealing Alexis Sanchez from under Manchester City's noses, we just didn't want to listen.
Yet here he is, traipsing around Old Trafford, desperately trying to rescue his shattered confidence and plummeting form. As Sevilla sent United crashing ignominiously out of the Champions League on Tuesday night, there were two players in red who could hold their heads up high: Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford.
But Sanchez, once again deployed on the left in the three behind Lukaku, with Rashford and Jessie Lingard, looked a shadow of the player we knew at Arsenal: tenacious, streetwise and, most importantly, clinical.
At United Sanchez has looked anything but. In his first couple of games, there were promising flickers of his technical proficiency, signs that he would, over time, forge a formidable understanding with Lukaku. Against Sevilla, they acted like they had never seen each other before.
Sanchez lost the ball 42 times against Sevilla, the most by an individual player in the Champions League season. The sad thing about that statistic is that it's not in the least bit surprising.
HT Alexis Sánchez v Sevilla
No shots, 16/26 passes completed, 0/2 take ons successful pic.twitter.com/dmqSB9hfUg
— Stats Zone ⚽️ (@StatsZone) March 13, 2018
Admittedly, there were times when Sanchez was effective. His one-two with Marouane Fellaini sent the Belgian through on goal, only for him to smack one straight at Sergio Rico, the Sevilla keeper who must have been astonished by the ease with which his defenders were handling United's threat.
Once or twice, Sanchez sent the lively Rashford skittering down the wing with a decent pass but this type of sporadic contribution is not why United signed him from Arsenal. The idea, presumably, behind bringing Sanchez in was that he would rejuvenate the United attack and offer the sense of a finished product, with Jose Mourinho clearly believing that Anthony Martial and Rashford still have room for improvement.
But Sevilla was just the latest in a series of alarmingly meagre displays from the former Barcelona man. He seems to have lost half a yard and doesn't look quite as razor-sharp as he did when he was lighting up the Gunners attack. Instead, he has become predictable and easy for defenders to brush off the ball. It happened several times against Sevilla, much like in the recent wins over Liverpool and Crystal Palace.
It has become exasperating to watch. The sight of a supposedly world-class talent so horrifically out of tune with the rest of the team. It felt almost comical that Wissam Ben Yedder scored twice to condemn United with his first two touches after being introduced as a 72nd-minute substitute by Vincenzo Montella with the kind of inch-perfect efficiency United fans have expected from Sanchez. Instead, they have been more likely to see the sign of a pass sprayed wide of its target or Sanchez bumbling to the ground as a defender dispossesses him.
Towards the end of his time at Arsenal, there were clear signs of disharmony between Sanchez and his teammates. While that surely isn't the case yet at Old Trafford, the image of the 29-year-old remonstrating and gesticulating angrily towards Rashford and Lukaku last night make for ominous viewing.
"He looks a shadow of the player he was, he looks a stranger in this team..."
"In some ways, I feel sorry for him."@rioferdy5 discusses Alexis Sánchez after another below-par display for Manchester United. pic.twitter.com/tQadySYbjk
— Football on TNT Sports (@footballontnt) March 13, 2018
Making the switch from Arsenal to United halfway through the season was always going to be tumultuous. After three-and-a-half years of playing under Arsene Wenger, the feeling of being introduced to Mourinho's more utilitarian philosophy is bound to jolt any attacking player out of their reverie. Admittedly, for a player who also been taught by Marcelo Bielsa, Pep Guardiola and Jorge Sampaoli, playing in a Mourinho system must be a rude awakening.
Yet, that's doesn't excuse Sanchez's total collapse in form. His tribulations surely put his place in the line-up under serious risk. With Martial returning to fitness and Rashford and Lukaku both out-performing Sanchez, Mourinho has a major decision to make regarding how he arranges his personnel for the next game.
Even Juan Mata, who came on as a 77th-minute substitute, seemed closer to unlocking the Sevilla defence than Sanchez. When Paul Pogba lost his mojo earlier in the season (he's yet to find it again), Mourinho dropped him. If an £89m social media superstar is far from invincible, then surely the United manager must be entertaining the thought of taking Sanchez out of the firing line.
That would be a move fraught with risk of course. Not because United don't possess the firepower to play without Sanchez, but because of Sanchez's reputation as an increasingly contumacious figure who divides the dressing room – and the fans. Were Mourinho to drop the South American, it would represent a compelling examination of Sanchez's resolve and resilience, testing how deeply he wants to be a success at Manchester United.
For now, he is rightly bearing the brunt of the criticism. His standards have dipped to the point of incredulity. Surely, now, the only way is up.