Alexis Sanchez shows glimpses of his best in Manchester United's pre-season draw with San Jose Earthquakes
The quest to bring out the best in Alexis Sanchez in a Manchester United shirt has begun in the Californian sunshine and amid the general ambivalence of a pre-season friendly, in another sparsely filled stadium, there is cause for optimism at last.
After a lively start, in which Sanchez had set up Eric Bailly to open the scoring with a delicious free kick – only for his United teammate to hit the crossbar with a simple header – there was a moment in the game, a brief passage of play, that showed us everything United want the Chilean to be.
A San Jose attack broke down and Sanchez was away, keeping the ball in play with a toe, before setting off like a sprinter, hurtling down the touchline, the ball constantly just in front of him.
The crowd roared their encouragement, Sanchez made 30 metres and then paused, slowing down to allow the covering Florian Jungwirth to get a close to him, before blasting away again.
Jungwirth knew he was beaten and stuck out an arm, sending Sanchez crashing to the floor with a “clothes line” move that would not have looked out of place in a wrestling match. The yellow card was rightly shown, with Anthony Martial quick enough to keep up with him, United were almost in on goal.
This was more like it. Sanchez was full of purpose, direct and strong, a dynamic a bundle of energy, with an eye for a pass, the ability to beat his man and with it, the potential to launch United on attacking raids at the speed needed to break through the final line of defence.
These are early days and this was against weak opposition, a poor San Jose Earthquakes side that had won just two games in five months, but it was encouraging.
Quite why Sanchez had struggled so badly at United following a January move from Arsenal remains unclear, but that is the past and at this time of the year, as attention turns to the hope of a fresh campaign, it is the future that matters now. If United are going to challenge for the title next season, they need the real Sanchez to turn up.
It says much about Sanchez’s disappointing start to life at Old Trafford that the most memorable thing about his first six months at the club was the video made to announce his signing on social media back in January.
A slick, high class production whetting the appetite for what was to come, fuelling the sense of excitement about what he would bring to a team that, at that stage, was still in the title race, the Champions League and the FA Cup. The possibilities seemed endless, only for the man himself to disappoint and United’s campaign to fizzle out into a trophyless one.
A little harsh, perhaps, but the Sanchez who played for Arsenal has not been seen in Manchester yet. That cannot continue.
For all of the attempts to offer mitigation, Sanchez’s form was worryingly poor. When you are paid £350,000 a week and your signing is seen as a major recruitment victory over neighbours Manchester City, you cannot score just three goals in 18 largely insipid performances.
The need to turn Sanchez into a United player was at the top of United’s objective list, so no wonder Mourinho was so glum when it appeared as though the Chilean would not be allowed to enter the USA because of a conviction for tax fraud, only for United to successfully appeal.
Mourinho has tried to defend him, arguing we would only start to see the best of him once he had spent a full pre-season with his new teammates, but it felt like a pretty flimsy excuse
The theory being that, even at the age of 29 and despite making an instant impact at Arsenal following his move from Barcelona four years ago, that Sanchez needed time to settle; time to adapt to the way United played.
But that is why he was thrust into the starting line-up against San Jose just 48 hours after landing on America’s West Coast. There is no time to waste.
Sanchez seems excited about the challenge, smiling and laughing in training, chatting happily to teammates in the warm up and cajoling them before kick-off. He was charged with positive energy and was the heart of everything United did well going forward.
There were no goals, no assists, the true currency of any forward player, but as an all-round performance goes, you could not have asked for much from Sanchez in his first run out of the summer.