Hailed as the man to release the Blaugrana attack when his talent was first spotted, Alexis Sanchez’s time in Barcelona has been shrouded in mediocrity. Poor decision making, wayward finishing and consistent injuries have left many questioning the vast amount of money spent on a man who rose to prominence at Udinese.
Admitting that he’s been forced to learn the art of playing football again at Barca, Sanchez conceded that he is capable of much more. “I would give myself a five out of 10,” said the honest Chilean when asked what he thought of his performances thus far for the Catalan giants.
Criticised heavily after his average display against Sevilla, journalists dedicated column inches to the analysis of the player’s deficiencies. No goals in the 278 minutes played in the League wrote Mundo Deportivo whilst his competition, David Villa managed three goals in 127 minutes. Those writers aside, when Sport asked the fans to choose who they want to see deployed on the left side of Barca’s attacking trident in the match against Benfica, Sanchez was their fourth choice. Most preferred to see Pedro, David Villa or Cristian Tello take on the role.
One lovely goal against the Portuguese side had the attacker’s staunchest critics waxing lyrical about the player’s mobility and remarkable skill displayed on Europe’s grandest stage yet it has not been enough to quash that lingering feeling that Sanchez is simply not living up to expectations. Not even his own.
A new environment, the pressure of a big club and the idea of no longer being the fulcrum of a side has certainly had an effect on the player’s integration within the Catalan side. Just as he began to find his way, injuries curtailed his development and the once physical player seemed less gritty in his approach with many assuming fear of another injury robbing him of an admirable quality to his play.
Whilst the above are adequate reasons behind his less than scintillating performances, the player’s character and previous displays of arrogance and belief in his qualities suggest different reasons with others believing it has to do with his positioning and Barca’s style of play.
A vertical player who blossomed in Udinese’s fast paced and direct approach to football, the player was converted from a winger to a second striker in Francesco Guidolin’s 3-5-2 formation, allowing the player the freedom to roam centrally whilst simultaneously taking advantage of his footballing intelligence. Playing behind the striker meant he not only created space for his colleagues by dragging man-markers away but was also able to exploit his pace and ability to take on defenders to direct key passes.
Centrally is where the player likes to be deployed and centrally is where he has excelled. As he explained to Spanish journalists exactly why he only gave himself a five out of 10, he also went on to say that when fielded on the wing, he is being forced to wait for the ball, whereas playing in the middle allowed him to partake in the action – the role he enjoys the most.
Notable performances against Real Madrid last season in addition to the match against Getafe in April highlighted his potency when positioned centrally. To take the match against Los Blancos as an example, Sanchez was played in the role of a true No 9 and he played it to perfection by demonstrating his appreciation for space and his capability of making timely runs to draw defenders away. Whilst on the wings the fans can delight in his willingness to contribute defensively, played through the middle, the Chilean exhibited his true attacking talent.
Capable of playing in all positions across the attack, the player showed his mobility against Benfica and exactly how to combine that with his physical presence. Played within a side that indulges in horizontal play as opposed to direct football, Sanchez may have struggled to flaunt his skills but it’s hard to deny the extent of his talent on those rare magical nights he is allowed to freely express himself.