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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 October 2018

Alexis Sanchez's form becoming a concern for Manchester United

The Chilean was again largely ineffective as Jose Mourinho's side drew 1-1 with Wolverhampton Wanderers

It was another frustrating afternoon for Alexis Sanchez since his arrival at Manchester United in January. Action Images via Reuters
It was another frustrating afternoon for Alexis Sanchez since his arrival at Manchester United in January. Action Images via Reuters

By the end of a rare 3pm kick-off at Old Trafford on Saturday, it was the 3,000 Wolves fans singing “We’re Wolverhampton, we’re on our way back” and “Nuno’s the special one” in front of their enthusiastic manager.

Less then a month after deservedly drawing with Manchester City they had earned a point against Manchester's other big club, with Diogo Jota, Joao Moutinho and Ruben Neves the stand out players in a team high on spirit.

The same could not be said of Alexis Sanchez, one of Manchester United’s main attacking threats.

The Chilean started because he did not play in the Uefa Champions League win at Young Boys on Wednesday.

Anthony Martial did and the Frenchman’s performance improved as the game went on and he was rewarded with a goal.

Martial rightly hoped to start against Wolves, but Sanchez was fortunate to get selected, as he had been in the two previous games which saw victories at Burnley and Watford.

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Rightly or wrongly, the best-paid players at football clubs tend to start whether they are playing well or not, but as in his two previous games, Sanchez was substituted.

Given he had not played midweek, tiredness cannot be the cause and Jose Mourinho did not look happy with his player before bringing him off.

Sanchez tried – almost too hard. There was an early neat interchange with Antonio Valencia as the Chilean moved across the pitch, but it is still not coming off for him in the red shirt of Manchester United since he arrived from Arsenal in January.

Sanchez played on the left with Romelu Lukaku ahead to his right, but they struggled to click.

He was loosely involved in the goal which gave United an 18th minute lead, a first for new Brazilian signing Fred. It was Sanchez’s ball into the box which was headed away by Wolves captain Conor Coady, which Paul Pogba flicked into the path of Fred.

Sanchez has speed, skill and close control. He runs at players and gets more attention than most from those trying to stop him, but he loses possession too often.

He did persist on Saturday. He had the confidence to take a 44th minute free-kick on the edge of the area, only to sky the ball towards the nearby cricket club rather than the box where his teammates were waiting. Sanchez shook his head at the wasted effort.

In the second half, a stray 50th minute Sanchez pass saw another attack break down, much like the goals the Chilean once scored have dried up.

Sanchez scored 15, 11 and 21 goals during his three seasons in Barcelona. He scored 25, 17 and 30 in the same period at Arsenal and had managed a further eight by the time he sat down to play Glory, Glory Man United on a piano in January 2018 for a video used by the club to announce his arrival.

He has scored only three times in 23 games since, the last in April’s FA Cup semi-final against Tottenham Hotspur. In the league, he has gone 831 minutes without a goal.

Sanchez is still a world-class footballer but does not look it at United and, his debut at Yeovil Town, the win at Wembley against Tottenham and the second half of the league game at Manchester City aside, moments of outstanding football beauty have been few.

He came off after 62 minutes, replaced by Martial on the left as United sought renewed impetus after struggling following Wolves’ equaliser.

“Not sharp enough in the last third,” was one of the more negative comments made by Jose Mourinho about his team.

United pushed for a winner with roars from the fans almost as loud as those which had accompanied the introduction of former manager Sir Alex Ferguson back in the directors’ box, but long balls barely troubled Wolves.

“Not a good performance, not a good result,” said Mourinho. “A fair result, Wolves deserved it. They played like I like to play: each game is like the World Cup final. They had that, we didn’t. That attitude made a difference”