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Tactical Predictions: In a full-strength United team, where does Sánchez fit?

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Sánchez started on the left of the attack in his debut, but that was in a second string side. Where will he line up in the long term?

Manchester United Training Session Photo by John Peters/Man Utd via Getty Images

The arrival of Alexis Sánchez has been a dream for all parties involved. The fans are happy we’re getting a world class player, the club is happy to reinforce their attack, and Arsenal, believe it or not, landed in the best-case scenario for signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan. However, the question now is where does Alexis fit for Manchester United? This is only one of many questions that need to be asked. He has primarily played on the left, but where does that leave Anthony Martial? He has also spent a good amount of time as a striker, but where would Lukaku fit? With a crucial match against Tottenham coming up this Wednesday and Alexis most likely set to start, it’s time to weigh the options.

Option 1: Left-Wing

Alexis has spent a lot of time this season, and in the past, playing on the left side of the pitch. He has a strong right foot, good dribbling ability, and is able to play a good ball to the central area to create chances. He would play naturally here in a 4-3-3 or even in a Mourinho 4-2-3-1. However, this option seems unlikely given Anthony Martial’s recent form and growing confidence. Martial came to United as a number 9, then with Mourinho’s arrival has switched almost full-time to the left-wing position. Last season, he struggled to find form in this spot, but this term has really thrived and become a threat on the left side. Martial also is young and developing, which means him staying at United could be in peril if Mourinho favors Alexis for that spot. Losing Martial would be a huge loss for United in the long-term and he really is playing excellently at the moment. Because of this, there is risk that Martial loses his form from being benched, as well as a risk of leaving the club. When calculating these risks, I find it unlikely that Alexis steals the spotlight from Martial on the left.

Option 2: Striker

Although the left is where he usually has played, Alexis has played as the front man for Arsenal, Chile, and even back at Barcelona. This makes sense given his clinical goal scoring ability and speed to beat the back line. However, this position does not make sense because he is not a typical Mourinho striker and Romelu Lukaku, who is a typical Mourinho striker, has been playing great football this term. Alexis could bring a lot to the table as the new front man and make United a dangerous counter-attacking side when you think of him being paired with Martial, Lingard, and the other speedsters in the side. Although exciting to think about, it is hard to imagine paying such a high transfer fee for Lukaku to have him not be the main man at United.

Option 3: Attacking Midfielder

With Mkhitaryan going the other way, this makes sense. United lost an attacking midfielder, so it seems natural to replace him with one. Alexis could be dangerous in the middle of the park given his ability to play through balls, his attacking creativity, and his defensive work rate in the final third to win balls back. However, this is a position that is somewhat foreign to him. This is the position that Alexis has played in the least and may require the most getting used to. Him landing here also hinders the growing confidence and ability of Jesse Lingard, who has also been in fantastic form. This may make the most sense, however, given that had Mkhitaryan kept his form from August, he could have solidified this position for himself. Since then, it has been somewhat of a mess trying to find a consistent player to be there, Lingard and Juan Mata being the most frequent chosen.

The Decision

Now, before deciding, speaking to the people who think that Alexis is the natural fit to play on the right-wing, he’s not. The option was not even worth mentioning, for me, because of how unlikely it seemed. A natural on his right foot, asking him to consistently perform at a world-class level with his left foot is poor player management. Because of that, I think Mourinho would rather play Mata or Lingard in that position.

Now, after weighing all of the options, the position I think Alexis will consistently play in at United is Attacking Midfielder. Out of all of the possibilities, this makes the most sense to me and could see him thriving at this position. Thinking of an attack that includes Martial, Lukaku, Sanchez, Lingard, and Pogba making cameos from the middle is something that dreams are made of. Especially at United where Lukaku plays as a target man, Sanchez gets to play a number 10/second striker hybrid that is suited perfectly for him. Mkhitaryan, when playing well, was able to create many chances from that spot, but could never make runs past Lukaku when the time presented. Mourinho has now found himself a player that can create chances like Mkhitaryan could, while also contributing more to the goal scoring aspect of that role. I expect to see Sanchez here in the line-up against Tottenham on Wednesday and am excited at the thought of him finding a home at United.