After 843 minutes of action for Manchester United, January signing Alexis Sanchez still has just one single goal to his name. The Chilean was supposed to provide a spark that could catapult the Red Devils closer to rivals, and runaway Premier League leaders, Manchester City, and perhaps even inspire a Champions League run, but instead he has been a frustrating, wasteful and ultimately ineffective presence on the pitch. The worry is that the 29-year-old Sanchez’s best days are behind him, and that the toll of being his nation’s talisman since he was a teenager – he has an astonishing 119 caps – has caught up with him at last. He was benched for United’s last outing before the international break, a disjointed win over Brighton in the FA Cup, and nearly declined to link up with the national team so he could focus on adapting to life in Manchester.
‘Seeing as I demand a lot of myself, I expected more,’ Sanchez revealed prior to friendlies against Sweden and Denmark. ‘Also, I doubted going away with the national team, the switch of clubs has been rough. I told the manager that I wanted permission to stay in England, but having thought about it, I thought it would be good to be here to start things off on the right foot. Having changed clubs has been tough, a lot of things have happened in my life that are difficult.’ Those comments came at the same time as reports emerged of Sanchez beginning to isolate himself from the rest of the United squad and eating alone at the club’s Carrington training ground. Sanchez’s struggles to adapt were even likened to those of Angel Di Maria, who left Old Trafford after just one uninspiring season.
But Sanchez’s situation feels markedly different. Firstly, Di Maria was the victim of a club in crisis and a manager who had zero support or faith in him. The Argentine’s South American style, full of flair, pace and – as typified by his lob against Leicester – invention, was at odds with Louis van Gaal’s slower, more methodical, more structured build-up play. Jose Mourinho has said before that he would not have sold Di Maria had he been in charge. Speaking about his struggles in an interview with the BBC in 2016, Di Maria explained: ‘It’s more that they didn’t let me settle properly than I couldn’t settle. I left and that team are still playing the same way. Out of the European competitions, far from being champions of the Premier League. I don’t think it was my fault or the fault of my team mates. Every time I was given the opportunity, I did all I could but it didn’t work out as I hoped.