Alexis Sanchez would represent handy proof, if ever required, that it is best paying no attention to pre-season.
He was the bright spark of Manchester United’s fairly disastrous tour of America, making up for joining late after visa issues to set the tempo in training and provide moments of promise.
The Chilean was given a pass for his first few disappointing months – reasons ranging from moving clubs mid-season and the expectation that the general threat he poses will burst out at some point – and the USA was a positive for him. They were looking forward to a first full term in red.
Alexis Sanchez struggled to make an impression as Manchester United drew with Wolves
Sanchez was taken off by Jose Mourinho just after the hour, with Anthony Martial coming on
Jose Mourinho arrived back to the North West certain the forward, earning £400,000 a week, would begin producing. After all, two goals in 12 starts was not exactly an auspicious start and not symbolic of his undoubted ability.
But what has followed must worry Mourinho. Sanchez, who looked so vibrant and full of enthusiasm just a few weeks ago, is now cowering.
He has not finished a game since August 10 and Chris Smalling has scored three goals in the time since Sanchez last found the net in the Premier League in late March. That he was hooked with almost half an hour left against Wolves with the game at 1-1 tells more about his troubling form than Mourinho’s strength in depth.
Hardly a surprising decision, though, given Sanchez gifted possession away on 16 separate occasions and had just one shot. That, a free-kick in a dangerous area, found the stands.
Sanchez, who looked so vibrant and full of enthusiasm just a few weeks ago, is now cowering
All this should not come as a shock to those who follow United and there have been murmurings among supporters for some time. And it is definitely not down to heavy legs; Sanchez was not at the World Cup, did not feature for Chile this month and had a rest against Young Boys.
The 29-year-old’s initiative seems to have deserted him, registering fewer shots per game (2.43) than ever before during his time in England.
The average of 1.08 shots on target is frankly laughable for a player who has been afforded so much patience and freedom by his manager, often at the expense of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial.
The dribbles attempted (3.24) and completed (1.35) this season are way down on his previous numbers and less than half of those recorded in 2014-15, his first campaign. Similar goes for the amount of touches. Regardless, Paul Pogba sprung to his defence.
The Chilean has looked a shadow of the player he was at Arsenal since joining Man United
‘What you have to know about Alexis is he is a hard worker,’ Pogba said. ‘He trains very well, he always tries to help the team, talks with the team and everything. He will get used to it.’
How long should it take someone earning £20million a year to ‘get used to’ a new team dynamic, one that has in part been tweaked to see him thrive?
Pogba continued: ‘When you play a long time with another team and you play different football in that other team you have some kind of adaptation that you have to have.
Sanchez has not finished a game since August 10 and last found the net in the league in March
‘It’s not that he is playing bad. We know that Alexis Sanchez can bring a lot and I’m sure he will. I’m sure he will.
‘But he’s not playing bad and he keeps being positive, so that’s the good thing we have to think about.’
Certainly that is something United and Mourinho must hang on to and Sanchez – who has registered just one assist so far – could well jerk into action. Unusually at United, it is when the critical spotlight shines brightest that players begin to rediscover form. So expect him to score a hat-trick against West Ham on Saturday.
Sanchez gifted possession away on 16 separate occasions against Wolves on Saturday
The wider issue at play for United here is the domino effect his capture, signing-on fee and salary has on future transfers. The concessions made to lure Sanchez have launched the club into a new stratosphere and one they could probably have done without finding.
While it is accepted that Gareth Bale would have cost even more, and so they still lie behind Real Madrid in finance thrown at the biggest names, those they choose to land next must be rubbing their hands.
Manchester City will be having paid close attention to Sanchez’s first eight months at Old Trafford. A lucky escape for Pep Guardiola. That United made such a fuss of Sanchez’s move from Arsenal is looking a little ill-conceived at the moment and they must be hoping that piano number is not the opening sonata to the end of his career.