by Steven Bell
Undoubtedly, Chile’s biggest talent. Alexis Sanchez’s move to FC Barcelona in the summer of 2011 should have been the defining moment in his career. After impressing in Serie A with Udinese, the multi-million pound move to the Spanish giants was agreed, and Alexis Sanchez’s football career was ready to hit new heights. The current European Champions had looked to have only added to the class already playing the Camp Nou, with Messi, Iniesta and co, so another season of dominance in La Liga and Europe was on the cards, and a season in which Alexis Sanchez could accumulate some much sought after silverware. Now, however, in his second season at the club, there are doubts around just how well he fits into the Barca team, and whether a move away from the Blaugrana would be the best move to further develop as a top class footballer.
After securing a move to Italian side Udinese, Alexis Sanchez in time became a key figure in the side. Alongside fellow Chilean Mauricio Isla, he played a huge part in the team’s 2010 Coppa Italia run; a run in which the side reached the semi-final stage, where they were defeated by AS Roma, despite a 1-0 home win in the second leg where Sanchez scored the winning goal. Performances during this season, and the next, elevated his stock, to the extent where he was voted 2011’s most promising young player in the world. Of course, this would alert Europe’s most powerful clubs. Sanchez’s ability to stretch the opposition with his direct running and pace was a trait which Pep Guardiola noted, and ultimately, he made a move for the young Chilean. Of course, the fact that Sanchez and Udinese teammate Antonio Di Natale had developed an effective partnership up front, one that yielded 39 goals in the 2011/2012 season between them, also helped with any decisions regarding assessing the quality of the player. Clearly, the Chilean had a playmaker side to his game; a side which created opportunities and showed impressive vision on the pitch, as well as the obvious lightning speed. The deal was done, and FC Barcelona had potentially added another world class player to their books.
The first season for Sanchez in Barcelona was one marred with short term injuries. Despite this, he went on to score his first and second Champion’s League goals against Bayer 04 Leverkusen, and his first goal in the big match against Real Madrid CF, as well as goals in the league and cup competitions. To this day, Sanchez has 15 goals for Barcelona in 41 appearances; make of that what you will, but one thing is for certain. Barcelona are not getting the best out of him. Now a player on the periphery of the team, he has almost become that substitute who comes on to inject some pace into the team down the wing. The dynamic displays at Udinese are certainly not on show as often at Bara, and perhaps the composure in front of goal needs to be refined. In a team with such talent and creativity, the 24 year old should be performing well above his current level. However, this may not be entirely Sanchez’s fault.
As we know, Barcelona are a team who dominate games to extreme levels. To see an 85% possession stat in favour of them is not unfamiliar. As a result, Alexis Sanchez is now more reliant on using skill and dribbling to beat defenders and get in behind teams. Previously, his frightening pace would have been a key element to racing in behind defences, as Udinese utilized other runners in the team, creating spaces behind and committing defenders to pressing the ball more. This is difficult to do in a team where one player passes the ball more than the whole opposition, and with the aforementioned possession stats. Sanchez’s game would have to change slightly to fit in a lot better than he is doing currently, although adaptability never looked a problem previously. Barcelona will not change their philosophy, rightly so, and could buy further in the summer also, meaning it will take even more adapting for the Chilean to get noticed in the side.
From looking at it, does this Barcelona need Alexis Sanchez? Probably not, but this does not make his time a complete failure. He will have gained fantastic experience from playing at the Camp Nou; big matches, big pressure, big teammates-it’s a big club with big expectations; this must filter through to a player. Also, he will receive a league winner’s medal this season, and who knows, maybe still a Champions League winner’s medal. Will he move in the summer? Who knows, but the real question is should he move in the summer? There are some great European teams where you could see him fit in perfectly-a return to a Serie A team could make sense, with Juventus apparently looking into his availability. In Italy, you could see Sanchez starring in a top side, scoring and creating. It’s a decision which requires a lot of thought, but one which Alexis Sanchez needs to do more than ponder.