After a rare tournament-free summer and with a full preseason under his belt, Alexis Sanchez was expected to be a key performer for Manchester United in the early weeks of the Premier League.
He’d be fresh while other teammates fought weariness from the World Cup. Finally, we’d see the best of the Chile forward after his January move from Arsenal.
It hasn’t turned out that way.
Sanchez lasted only 63 minutes in United’s 1-1 draw at Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday before he was substituted. The sight of him trudging off the field mid-match has become familiar — he has only played the full 90 minutes once this season.
He has yet to score a goal — in fact it’s now 831 minutes since Sanchez last hit the back of the net in the Premier League — and he completed only 23 of his 33 passes in the game against Wolves, lower than any other outfield United player.
“This guy’s been bright so far,” United tweeted from its official account just before halftime, alongside a picture of Sanchez on the ball. The replies, mostly saying the opposite, were long and hardly flattering.
Since arriving at Old Trafford, Sanchez has struggled to show the flair and dynamism that marked his 3 1/2 years at Arsenal and, before that, at Barcelona and Udinese. He has scored three goals in 23 games, and his truly memorable moments can be counted on one hand.
At Arsenal, Sanchez was allowed to play with freedom under Arsene Wenger. Playing on the left or as the lone striker, he could drift around the field mostly to his liking. He was the main man, along with Mesut Ozil.
At United, he plays with more defensive responsibilities under Jose Mourinho and he seems subdued and restricted. He is reportedly the team’s highest earner but isn’t justifying the lofty salary. Last season, in a game at Crystal Palace in March, he gave the ball away a staggering 34 times.
Perhaps just as importantly, his arrival has had a negative impact on Anthony Martial and, maybe to a lesser extent, Marcus Rashford, who shared left-wing duties before Sanchez came.
It begs the question: Did Mourinho really need to buy Sanchez? Surely there were more necessary areas to improve, like at center back — a position that was Mourinho’s major bugbear in preseason.
We’ll never know if the 29-year-old Sanchez would have fitted in better at Manchester City, which he snubbed at the last minute to seal a move to United — a team he described as “the biggest club in the world.” He would likely have had more opportunity to flaunt his attacking prowess under a more offensive-looking coach in Pep Guardiola.
“I think we are going to see the best Alexis,” United teammate Ander Herrera said during the team’s preseason tour of the United States, when Sanchez was one of United’s better players.
Now the real test has started, United fans are still waiting.
Another winger looking to bounce back after a difficult last season is Brighton’s Anthony Knockaert, but in entirely different circumstances.
The 26-year-old Frenchman recently opened up about his mental health issues sparked by the death of his father in late 2016 and a divorce from his wife in the offseason of 2017.
“It was mentally impossible for me to go and perform,” said Knockaert, who received counselling.
Knockaert was a standout player in Brighton’s promotion campaign in the 2016-17 but scored just three goals last season. He got off the mark this season with a goal in the 2-1 loss to Tottenham on Saturday and appears to have recovered his spark.
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Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80