24 Jan, 19:00
Manchester United‘s pursuit of Alexis Sanchez has been wrapped up, with the 20-time champions of England confirming the arrival of the Chilean forward, who will wear the No.7 shirt at Old Trafford, on Monday.
With all the loose ends tied up and Sanchez now officially a United player, talk has turned to how Mourinho will utilise the 29-year-old. Although the Portuguese manager has been criticised for his perceived tactical negativity at times this term, his strongest team contains a handful of established attacking stars, one of whom will have to make way for Sanchez.
Here are four ways United could line up with Sanchez:
With Mourinho favouring a 4-2-3-1 formation since his arrival at Old Trafford, the most obvious place for Sanchez to slot into is the No.10 role, offering the new recruit the freedom to operate across the second line of attack and link with striker Romelu Lukaku. From there, Sanchez could put to use his dribbling and ability to play incisive one-twos to help United break down stubborn backlines, something which has, at times, proved troublesome for the Red Devils in recent seasons. The decision for Mourinho would then be who to start on the right flank, choosing between the in-form Jesse Lingard and the more considered approach of Spanish playmaker Juan Mata.
Sanchez right wing
In superlative form over the last couple of months, Lingard would be unfortunate to lose his place to Sanchez, and deploying the ex-Arsenal man on the right wing might be Mourinho’s best option for fielding both men. This provides the option of positional interchanging between Sanchez and Lingard, with both comfortable centrally or on the right side of attack; the Englishman’s pressing and work rate from the No.10 position has proven invaluable to United when out of possession. Although Sanchez hasn’t played on the right consistently since his Barcelona days, the Chilean would be an asset on the counter-attack if returned to the role, while his ability to time runs into the half-space remains one of his biggest attributes and would add a new wrinkle to the United frontline.
Sanchez left wing
Having carved out a reputation for himself as one of the Premier League’s best players from his berth on the left side of Arsenal’s attack, Sanchez would perhaps be most at home in the same role at Old Trafford. The issue with this option, however, is that it would mean either redeploying Anthony Martial elsewhere or dropping the vastly improved Frenchman altogether, something United fans would not like to see and could have a detrimental effect on the 22-year-old’s development. Marcus Rashford, although out of form recently, has also found the majority of his game time on the left wing in recent seasons, and regularly using Sanchez in this position would put a further obstacle in the young Englishman’s path to regular action.
A fourth option, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic continuing to struggle with injuries since re-signing with the club last summer, is to utilise Sanchez as a central striker, deputising for Lukaku when the £75 million Belgian is unavailable or rested. Sanchez doesn’t offer the same physical presence as Lukaku, but he would add a greater degree of mobility and inventiveness up top. His propensity for roaming from the central zone would also present opportunities for the likes of Martial and Lingard to break ahead of the ball into scoring positions more regularly. Having forked out a hefty fee to sign Lukaku from Everton last summer, playing Sanchez as a striker is likely to be regarded as little more than a plan B, but a viable and potentially effective one all the same.
Looking back over the 80 goals he scored for the Gunners, the former Barca man is capable of scoring every type of goal, be it a 25-yard curler, a neat finish from a tight angle or a tap-in from close range; playing just off Lukaku would position the Chilean well within the danger zone.