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Sunday September 15 2013
A season to define Sanchez

After Saturday's match-winning goal against Sevilla, Olly Dawes asks whether this will be a future-defining season for Alexis Sanchez.

Having watched his team throw away a 2-0 lead, Barcelona manager Tata Martino needed a hero to win the game. With Lionel Messi and Neymar on the field, the Argentine wasn't short of firepower.

However, it was a player who is regularly the Camp Nou scapegoat who hauled the Blaugrana out of their mess and fired them to three points. The often derided Alexis Sanchez popped up inside the six yard box to turn home Messi's saved effort, sparing Maritno's blushes having conceded twice in the last ten minutes.

Sanchez's goal comes in what could be in a future-defining season for the Chilean. Now in his third year with the Catalan side, the 24-year-old needs to prove that he is a key part of Barcelona's attack, despite Messi being the obvious focal point and the addition of Neymar.

A disappointing 2012/13 season saw the former Udinese man score just eight La Liga goals, and whilst his assist tally increased from five to nine, the fans will have been hoping for a more telling contribution in the goals department. As a result, speculation persistently linked Sanchez with a move back to Serie A with Juventus, having left the Zebrette to join Barca in 2011.

The rumours eventually proved to be totally unfounded, and Sanchez will now fight for a place with Messi, Neymar, Pedro and Cristian Tello for a starting role on the Barca front line.

Sanchez is a hard working player whose defensive attributes make him a different proposition to the likes of Tello, and these qualities are ones that Coach Martino appreciates, leading to the 24-year-old admitting that the new boss has given him his confidence back.

"The confidence for a player is everything. If there is confidence provided on the pitch, a player can do many things. I feel really good this year, very comfortable and confident. Tata Martino gives me an amazing confidence that allows me to be more free on the field."

With a South American tactician possibly understanding Sanchez's role better, and putting him in a position to maximise his ability, we could see his best season as a Barcelona player – and possibly realise the potential he showed during his spell with Udinese, where he became one of the hottest properties in Europe, leading to Barcelona forking out a fee that could surpass the £30m mark.

The huge outlay would suggest that Sanchez will be giving time to prove himself, but with expectations so high at the club – and rumours linking the club with a move for Juventus forward Fernando Llorente in January – the next few months will determine his long-term future.

The late winning goal against Sevilla is hopefully the start of Sanchez's revival under Martino, as he bids to prove his worth after two good, but not outstanding seasons under Pep Guardiola and Tito Vilanova. 

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