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What will it take to unlock Alexis Sánchez?

A change in style and formation may be needed to get the best out of the Chilean forward, but is it worth it to get production from one man?

Manchester United v San Jose Earthquakes Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Alexis Sánchez has been under constant scrutiny since Manchester United secured his services from Arsenal in the January 2018 transfer window. The Chilean forward has had a few decent performances in red, but for the most part has not lived up to the hype.

Manchester United’s offense had scored 71 goals in all competitions prior to Alexis’ arrival in 2017/18, and they were thought to have been improved by swapping a desperately out of form Henrikh Mkhitaryan for Sánchez. But in the remaining months of the season the team managaed to score only 30 more goals in all competitions. United crashed out of the UEFA Champions League and fell further behind City in the league before losing 1-0 in a dull FA Cup Final against Chelsea.

Overall Alexis Sánchez has scored 3 goals and provided 3 assists in 19 competitive matches for Manchester United. Other than a couple of outings on the right or in the middle Alexis has played mostly on the left wing, the position he’s historically been most comfortable/productive in. But if United can’t get production out of him from that position, it may be time to experiment more — or move on. Left wing is a position where both Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial can play effectively, and they’ve been a bit unsettled by losing playing time to Alexis.

One option for a formation change is the 3-5-2 with Alexis at striker next to Lukaku.


The extra defender may make more than a few fans moan, but could free up the full backs to take on a more attacking role in the wide areas, allowing attacking midfielders and forwards to remain central, where Alexis likes to cut to from the wing anyway.

José Mourinho’s tendency to play a defensive game could see the 3-5-2 formation implemented, but by doing so he will further alienate fans who long for attacking football and attacking players whose playing time will be cut with fewer spots to compete for. Another formation option with a more attack oriented lineup, with Alexis playing centre forward, could be a modified 4-3-3 formation.


A way to include either Marcus Rashford or Anthony Martial would be to play Alexis as a deep-lying forward just behind the main strikers, with the top 2 playing with more width than Alexis. Rashford and Martial will be comfortable cutting in from the left, and though Lukaku is a no. 9 through and through he has shown considerable improvement in dribbling and distributing over the last several seasons. He’s even racked up a few assists sending the ball in from wide areas with quality precision.

Position changes are risky, and there have been examples of success and failure at Manchester United in the past. Recent risky experiments have been Wayne Rooney’s conversion to central midfielder, Juan Mata on the wings, and Valencia and Young as full backs, all with mixed results, to put it nicely. Alexis may not even be worth it. He’s the highest paid player on the team, but so far his career at United has inspired a lot more doubt than positivity.

However, it is still only the second match week of the season. There are opportunities in the league as well as early stages of the League Cup and Champions League for Mourinho to experiment with the squad a bit more. He just needs to weigh the possibility of failure with the potential reward, or he risks worsening his own situation as well.