Jose Mourinho used to be faithful to his centre-forwards as Didier Drogba, Diego Costa and Zlatan Ibrahimovic would testify.
The Manchester United manager has had a more roving eye recently but Alexis Sanchez’s performance against Juventus on Wednedsay might be the start of a great relationship as Jose’s No 9.
Mourinho went into the game against Europe’s toughest defence having played three different centre-forwards in his last three games – very uncharacteristic of him.
Alexis Sanchez stepped up when called upon against Juventus on Wednesday evening
But with Romelu Lukaku, nine games without a goal, left in Manchester to rest tender muscles and Marcus Rashford back on the bench, Sanchez was given another chance to kickstart his United career as their main attacker.
It was a fascinating experiment and one that the Chilean will have won many fans even if United’s attacking forays were relatively scarce.
One of the criticisms aimed at £75milion Lukaku was his lack of hold-up play and aggression against defenders.
Sanchez, the Premier League’s highest-paid player but one who has largely struggled since joining from Arsenal at the start of 2018, showed good technical ability, keeping the ball and bringing others into play, something that benefited Ashley Young, Paul Pogba, Ander Herrera and Anthony Martial in particular. His first touches found their intended target virtually every time.
Jose Mourinho gave the Chilean attacker the nod to lead the line at the Allianz Stadium
He also showed a game intelligence by dropping into pockets of space between the lines that left Leonardo Bonucci with the awkward decision whether to follow into unwanted space, or to allow the South American to turn.
And while Sanchez is not of the physical stature of Drogba or Costa, he harries defenders and gets into their faces more than any of his rivals at Old Trafford; Rashford, Martial or Lukaku.
On one occasion, his charge towards Juve goalkeeper Wojcech Szczesny forced him to hammer the ball out for a throw. If Mourinho wants to press teams, Sanchez would be the ideal man to keep furthest up the pitch.
It was a compliment to Sanchez that Juve captain Giorgio Chiellini clattered into him with a challenge that left the United player wincing.
United were in the rare position of being underdogs and they will have been pleased with the way they held Juventus at bay until Cristiano Ronaldo scored one of his spectacular volleys midway through the second half.
He showed game intelligence and caused problems for Leonardo Bonucci on Wednesday
Sanchez (left) harried Juve’s players and got into their faces more than his strike partners
What will have gladdened Mourinho is that Sanchez stayed disciplined and kept his position as the focal point of the attack even when United didn’t have the ball. He resisted the temptation to chase for it like a headless chicken.
For Sanchez’s part, he might have a legitimate grumble that not enough of United’s midfield players got forward enough to pose Juventus a consistent threat.
Sanchez, who turns 30-years-old next month, lacks the after-burner pace to scare defences like Juventus. He wouldn’t win a foot race with Lukaku, Martial or Rashford so needs team-mates around him.
He’s more than three years younger than Ronaldo but could never have matched his goal when the Portuguese superstar ran in behind Victor Lindelof before connecting with a stunning volley.
But in United’s current predicament of trying to build gradually rather than blow teams away, Sanchez looks the best option until Lukaku finds form, fitness and confidence.
Like at Bournemouth, the quicker Rashford came off the bench for the final 20 minutes to put Juventus under pressure, though this time it was Jesse Lingard rather than Sanchez who made way.
Romelu Lukaku, who is nine games without a goal, was left in Manchester to rest his muscles
Interestingly, with both Rashford and Sanchez on the pitch, it was the older man who was kept central and Rashford asked to try his luck down the right flank, until Sanchez himself was withdrawn for Marouane Fellaini 12 minutes from the end.
It won’t have gone unnoticed that United’s next game is against a team equally as powerful as Juventus – Manchester City.
Mourinho will want his centre-forward to be mobile and bring team-mates into play. And last season Sanchez enjoyed arguably his best performance in a United shirt, setting up goals for Paul Pogba in a famous 3-2 derby win at The Etihad.
The pair seem to have a natural understanding. In one attack in Turin, they exchanged passes on the edge of the box that bamboozled even the experienced Juventus back-line.
Mourinho will surely be faithful to Sanchez this weekend.