Alexis Sanchez has been one of the stand-out players of World Cup 2014 so far,
Don’t take my word for it, Yahoo ambassador Jose Mourinho (above) rates him as the player of the tournament at this juncture.
That’s some claim if you consider how well Neymar, Thomas Muller, Karim Benzema and Arjen Robben in particular have played, and how decisive Lionel Messi has been for Argentina despite not being at his very best so far.
Sanchez has certainly caught the eye with his hard-working and energetic performances in Brazil and is deserving of some long-overdue praise, although fans of FC Barcelona won’t be surprised at just how influential the Chilean has been at the tournament.
Despite often playing second fiddle to Neymar, Messi and Pedro Rodriguez at Camp Nou last season, Sanchez still managed a more-than-acceptable haul of 19 goals and 10 assists. Second only to Messi in the goalscoring stakes and to Cesc Feabregas in assist terms.
In fact, for club and country last season he was the only player in European football’s top five leagues to have scored and assisted more than 10 apiece. Form that he has brought into the World Cup with a goal and assist in his opening three matches.
Hosts and one of the favourites Brazil now lie in wait in the round of 16, and Selecao full-back Marcelo needs no reminder of the intensive and rigouros workout he will be afforded by Sanchez.
Indeed, the entire Brazil back line will be kept on their toes with Sanchez given much more licence to roam by Jorge Sampaoli than he is at club level. His freedom of movement for the national team is in stark contrast to his role at Barca, where he is expected create spaces for team mates to penetrate by widening play and opening up the channels.
A notoriously difficult opponent to shrug off of the ball, Sanchez becomes harder to pick up when he emasculates defenders bamboozled by the twists and turns in tight areas, something he hasn’t been able to do much of in La Liga.
Sampaoli is no fool and has tapped into what makes his front man tick. His role for the national team mirrors that of his time in Serie A for Udinese and at Colo Colo and River Plate beforehand. And we can all see the results.
All of which begs the question as to why the Catalans generally force him into a wider berth. Imagine the returns were he allowed to exhibit his natural game at club level.
MADE FOR UNITED?
With alleged interest in Sanchez’s services from Manchester United, Louis van Gaal would do well to study the player’s versatility and dynamism in Brazil as a more accurate barometer of what he is all about.
Against Chile, van Gaal’s Holland played with a similar 3-4-1-2 formation and that selection for the Red Devils is likely to get the best out of Sanchez.
Intelligent movement up top alongside an exuberant Robin van Persie will be manna from heaven for Wayne Rooney, sat just behind the front two and able to bomb forward centrally himself when either decides to peel out wide.
The signing of Ander Herrera from Athletic Bilbao will allow Rooney to stay further forward and play more of a number 10 type role if required, rather than dropping so deep so as to become more of a supplementary central midfielder, as happened on occasions last season.
Even if van Gaal were to tinker with formations as he did vs. Ghana (5-3-2), Wales (4-3-1-2) and Spain (4-2-3-1), with Sanchez added to the roster at Old Trafford the Dutchman will have the luxury of three intelligent and mobile world class forwards able to rotate right across the attacking line without a drop in the quality of output.
Further, as we have already seen at this World Cup one thing that van Gaal asks from his players above all else is hard work and team ethic, something that Sanchez provides in abundance.
His immense physical attributes make him a fairly combative and robust exponent of the beautiful game but he is rarely given enough credit for his wide-ranging skill set.
An aerial presence if needed, he’s no slouch on the deck either. Stroke a pass inside a full-back and Sanchez will get after it like a dog chasing a bone and from first minute to last, he can be relied upon to give every last ounce of effort.
It’s clear he just wants to play football, and it’s perhaps because of a lack of minutes at Barca that a possible move has been mooted.
United fans have been crying out for a player of Sanchez’s ability for the last 12 months and it’s about time they were given something to shout about.