Manchester United Need to Solve the Alexis Sánchez Problem

BURNLEY, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 02: Alexis Sanchez of Manchester United during the Premier League match between Burnley FC and Manchester United at Turf Moor on September 2, 2018 in Burnley, United Kingdom. (Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images)

As he battled his way to the touchline, somehow finding the ball through three defenders and managed an off-balance shot, there was a hint of the player that just two years ago terrorized Premier League defences.

For the briefest of moments, Alexis Sánchez was on the pitch.

It’s hard to believe just eight months ago the Guardian described Sánchez as a “steal” and “the prolific scorer United lack,” but the man who was supposed to be Mourinho’s Cantona looks more like United’s next Garry Birtles.

It’s not just that Sánchez hasn’t scored for his new side in 693 minutes – which has cost United £13 million – it’s that the Chilean has been absent from their attack in a way he’s never shown before.

Manchester United Need to Solve the Alexis Sánchez Problem

Using Scott WillisOffensive Value Added we can see roughly how much value Alexis Sánchez is contributing to the attack per 90 minutes – an OVA of one equates to one added goal.

Alexis Sánchez has put forward his worst offensive performance this season since entering English football. (Courtesy: @Oh_That_Crab)
Alexis Sánchez has put forward his worst offensive performance this season since entering English football. (Courtesy: @Oh_That_Crab)

Sánchez is contributing roughly one goal every three matches – assuming he plays a full 90 minutes – easily his worst output in English football. For context, 0.31 OVA/90 is only slightly better than James Milner’s and worse than Nacho Monreal’s this season.

Worse than that, Sánchez’s eight shots this season have registered a combined .0.39 expected goals, and despite the forward’s propensity to outperform his expected goals, this is still lower than what spectators have come to expect from Manchester’s £35 million man.

Sánchez’s tenure at Manchester United has been far from ideal but that doesn’t mean he should be written off.

At 29-years-old the forward still boasts an impressive work rate and an incisive passing ability. Against Wolves Sánchez attempted eight passed into the penalty area, and although he only connected on three, those account for nearly half of all his final third passes; Sánchez was 13/20 in the attacking third.

Despite his inability to score, Alexis Sánchez continues to be among the best at taking defenders out of the game. (Courtesy: @Oh_That_Crab)
Despite his inability to score, Alexis Sánchez continues to be among the best at taking defenders out of the game. (Courtesy: @Oh_That_Crab)

This season he has proven himself – once again – to be a dangerous passer, capable of moving the ball into dangerous positions, but even there, in an area where he succeeds, Sánchez is behind his former self.

Returning to Willis’ data, this time his Passing Progression Value Added stat, similar to xG Chain or xG Build Up, we can measure the average value of Sánchez’s passes per 50 attempts. This season he’s leading United with a PPVA/50p of 0.26, but that is significantly down from last season – 0.36 – or his career total in England: 0.33.

It’s tough to discern whether this change comes from playing under Jose Mourinho, Sánchez’s age, a lack of interest, or is simply a run of bad form, but the fact of the matter is that the player United thought they acquired in January has yet to appear.

Alexis Sánchez is a valuable player, and he has not been entirely absent, but in this case, good simply isn’t good enough, as pointed out by his manager after another disappointing performance, this time against Wolves.

“Wolves, by the way, they faced the game, I think they deserve it. They play like I like to play which is like the World Cup final,” Mourinho said in his post-match press conference, before singling out some of his players.

“I could say we were tired. I could go in this direction but Alexis Sánchez and Jesse Lingard didn’t play. It’s a mental situation, an attitude. One team was coming to play the game of their lives, the other to relax,” he continued.

Mourinho will have to decide how much leash he’s willing to extend his star player because he’s costing a pretty penny and keeping young players like Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford off the starter’s sheet.

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