Alexis Sanchez debut verdict: 'As a start this was close to perfection'
For a moment Alexis Sanchez must have wondered what on earth he was doing.
There were his former club Arsenal booking a place at a Wembley final the minute he left and here he was, playing in a League Two stadium, with more sand on the pitch than on the beach at Weston-super-Mare.
At the Emirates he had despaired of the lack of recruitment of quality colleagues. Here he lined up alongside Matteo Darmian. Then, barely had he got used to wearing Manchester United’s hallowed number seven shirt, left unattended since the red legend that was Memphis Depay departed for Lyon, than he was welcomed to Yeovil with a foresquare tackle entirely lacking in ceremony.
It came from the uncompromising centre back Nathan Smith, who sent him spiralling into the cold January air with an assault perfectly matching the agricultural surrounds.
He might have started the game wearing gloves, but they weren’t going to protect him from that. Anticipating nights with United in the elevated surrounds of Paris, Munich and Madrid, being kicked in rural Somerset was presumably not what he signed up for.
But Sanchez immediately demonstrated his resilience, picking himself up and firing the resultant freekick just wide of Artur Krysiak’s goal. Not that the locals seemed keen to recognise his gameness. As the ball hit the advertising boards to the side of the goal, the occupants of the home stand chanted in his direction: “what a waste of money.”
Money has been the defining mark of everything to do with Sanchez’s transfer, the amount he is earning, the amount his agent has trousered.
Before this game, one newspaper reported that his car is worth more than the value of the motors of the entire Yeovil squad added together. But never mind the quality of his wheels, there is no question that the locals were pleased to see him stroll out with his new colleagues, starting the game rather than having his pricey limbs protected on the bench. As he warmed up, the occupants of the stand running along one side of Yeovil’s neat Huish Park gathered at the front to film him on their phones.
This was proper celebrity arriving in a place where the biggest name they were previously expecting was A-ha, the now venerable Norwegian pop band whose gig here in June was advertised on posters in the gents.
And, whatever the supposed cost, Sanchez is a player who generally offers value for money. When, midway through the first half, he took out two defenders with a sudden switch of direction, the home supporters oohed and aahed in appreciation.
As every Arsenal fan knows this is not someone inclined to remaining static. A constant whirl of energy, he gave his marker, 21 year old Tom James, a guided tour of every inch of the Huish Park turf, as he tore around in a busy flurry.
But what will have pleased the Manchester United fans stationed on the open terrace was how quickly he seemed to have assimilated into the United system. There seemed little need for integration.
Playing on the left of a front three, from the off he was exchanging sharp passes with Marcus Rashford and Juan Mata, releasing Scott McTominay to draw a magnificent save from Krysiak. Even if not everything came off, even if his long passes were occasionally awry, how his new colleagues seemed to relish his presence, loved the space he found, the space he created for them.
It was his pass that sent Rashford through for the visitors’ first goal. Though in truth it was less the precision of Sanchez’s intervention than James’s nervous dawdling on the ball that allowed the forward to score. And it was his pass too, hit at speed and timed to perfection, that set up Ander Herrera for the second.
When he left on 75 minutes, to take his place in the modest Huish Park dug out, there was a sense around the ground that he had made his mark. The United fans may be hoping there is more to come, more goals, more assists, more involvement.
But as a start this was close to perfection. The truth is, the cost may be way beyond the ken of anyone at Yeovil, but on this evidence he is going to make Manchester United a better team. And in today’s Premier League economy, that represents investment well made.