This transfer window’s first blockbuster transfer seems to be that of Alexis Sanchez to Barcelona for a fee which reportedly can rise to as much as £44million. The 22 year old, Chilean who had a breakthrough season at Udinese looks set to play with and against Europe’s elite talent. If last season can be used as an indicator of what the future holds one can argue, with a little bit of work and proper mentoring of course, that he is definitely on his way to accomplishing his goal of ‘becoming the best player in the world’.
Alexis Sanchez joined Udinese in 2006. When he signed he was immediately loaned out to Chile’s top club, Colo-Colo where he stayed for a year then the following season he spent with Argentine giants, River Plate. While at Colo Colo he would win two league titles. He returned to Udinese in 2008 but only in in the 2010/2011 season he began to live up to much of the hype which has surrounded him. Dubbed El Niño Maravilla or The Wonderkid in his homeland, he debuted for the national team in 2006 against New Zealand and has since gone on to play a further 36 times scoring 13 goals. He also featured in last summer World Cup in Chile where he was one of their top performers.
This article would now take an in-depth look into Alex Sanchez’s physical and technical attributes also his playing style and how he fitted in Udinese’s tactical set up. Finally, it would look at he would possibly fit in to Pep Guardiola’s unit.
Alexis Sanchez has great acceleration and is also very agile. He does not have great top speed but he accelerates well over short distances. His ability to change direction quickly (agility) is his greatest asset as it compliments well with his exceptional dribbling ability. In the open field or in tight spaces he is able to duke his way around opponents with ease. He’s 5 feet 6 inches and muscular build and has a low centre of gravity. He is not, however, a very strong athlete and at times he give away possession quite easily when opposing players use a physical approach to win back the ball from him. According to WhoScored.com, he has been dispossessed an average of 5 times per game, which is an alarming stat.
Alexis Sanchez has loads of technical ability and its the main reason why he is wanted by the Catalan club. His main technical attribute is his ability to dribbling opponents. He lead the way in the Serie A with an average of 3 successful dribbles per match. He can beat his opponents while running at them and also take care of him self in tight situations when crowded out by defenders. He is also very unpredictable and plays with that renowned South American flair. There’s a lot of flicks and audacious moves which he pulls out of his bag of tricks when the ball is played to him. His first touch is impeccable applying the right touch to passes played to him of any weights and heights.
His distribution of the ball can do with some improving. He has shown he has an eye for the crucial pass but at times either overhits it or the pass is intercepted. He had an average of 1.61 key passes per game which is good but should be higher for a player of his standard. Sanchez also has a tendency to dwell on the ball on occasions which causes him to either lose the ball or not make the best pass available. His crossing leaves a lot to be desired and is a major let down for this very talented footballer. In and around the penalty area he finishes well and in 2010/2011 his return of 12 Serie A in 2010/2011 is his highest tally in his professional career but according to him there is room for improvement.
Is he a winger or a second striker?
At the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Marcelo Bielsa deployed Alexis Sanchez as a wide right forward in an attacking 3-3-1-3 formation for Chile. His positioning to be exact was tucked in off the right flank which allowed space for the attacking wing back to marshal that area and for Sanchez to play closer to the lone striker. At the beginning of the 2010/2011 Serie A season he played a similar role to this and then later on after a tactical rethink by Francesco Guidolin he decided to play him in a supporting role alongside talisman striker, Antonio Di Natale.
In the wide right role Sanchez seemed shackled, in the games observed he never drifted much from his position. This seemed strange for a player with his ability and flair to not pop up in various areas in the attacking phase to try and make an impact. It is impossible to know if this was the coach’s call or Sanchez’s choice but whatever it was he was not exceptional out there. His poor crossing also contributed significantly to this. In Udinese’s system the Chilean was required to track back when in the defensive phase, especially when opposing full backs got forward, however, this seemed to be one of the shortcomings of his game as he always looked reluctant to get back and when he did his positioning is usually off.
Upon being switched to a more central position Alexis Sanchez was a different player. He got more involved in the build up and he was a more expressive player playing with a lot of freedom. His movement was now more dynamic he was now dropping deep to collect from the midfielders, making runs ahead of his strike partner looking for the final ball or drifting to the wings to create overloads or to cause confusion to the opposition’s defence by making himself more difficult to mark. As a natural right winger his tendency is to drift more to right flank than the left. Being in this central position he seems to be even more unpredictable with his dribbling. He looks to be a more creative force and really shows off his vision while playing centrally also he has scored all of his 12 goals this season after the switch was made.
Sanchez at the Camp Nou
The question that looms with his imminent transfer to Barcelona is how is he going to fit into one of the best teams of all time? Explored in this section is how Guardiola would most likely deploy Alexis Sanchez and not the possibility of him breaking into the starting XI.
The obvious option is that he may be an alternative to Pedro in the right wide forward position of Barca’s 4-3-3. Pedro’s role has it similarities to Sanchez’s at the beginning of the 2010/2011 with Udinese. Though he didn’t flourish in this position with Udinese his fortune may be a bit different with Barcelona. The Catalans attack is very fluid and there is a lot of movement and interchanging of position and this should suit the Chilean. With freedom to express himself he has shown that he excels but factors such as the length of time it takes for him to understand Barca’s unique style of football and develop on field chemistry with his teammates would dictate how long it takes before he shines at Europe’s top club.
At present Barcelona keeps raising the bar to seemingly unattainable with the quality of the football they play but Pep Guardiola seems determine to keep the chasing pack at a distance by either slightly tweaking their Plan A or coming up with a Plan B. Alexis Sanchez seems to be key factor of this plan B. One can imagine him playing the second striker role, similarly to how he played at Udinese, behind David Villa (or Guisseppe Rossi according to reports) with Messi playing off them in a free role.
The one obvious with Alexis Sanchez at Barcelona is his low work ethic whilst in the defensive phase. The Catalan giants are renowned for their pressing game where every member of the team aggressively presses the opposition high up the pitch in an attempt. This requires players with a high work ethic and awareness. This would be the one area where the Chilean would have to make a major adjustment to his game to cut it at Barcelona.
At 22 years of age and a mentality to become the best one would doubt Alexis Sanchez reaching his goals at their peril. At Barcelona he has the ultimate challenge of making an impact in a team which basically only need new players to give it some depth so great is their starting XI. But he will definitely be given his chance but the rest would be totally up to him.
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