It began as nothing more than a curious case with the under-performing Alexis Sanchez, the player not quite hitting the heights that were expected following his move to Barcelona. But incredibly quickly, the Chilean international has become one of the most frustrating players to watch, certainly in La Liga.
Maybe that’s being too polite, maybe it should be accurately reported that Sanchez has been woeful for the whole of this season and beyond. The player knows it, too. He made a point earlier in the season that his performances have been 5/10 at best. However, since then nothing much has changed.
It was highlighted last week with the second-leg tie against Cordoba, in which Alexis started and scored two goals. But that doesn’t tell the whole truth. Any player grabbing two goals in a high-scoring win for Barcelona is surely on the right track. Yes, Alexis scored twice, but it should have been five or six. Were any of his goals impressive? Not in the least; shots from others that happened to rebound off him was as good as it got. When he did pull a pass from out of the air and bring it under control, he rounded the keeper and was sure to grab what would have been his second up until that point. Instead, he fell over and stared at the ground, completely embarrassed, of course.
It would have been easy to tell the outcome of this tale from the get-go. A young, rising star from Serie A picked up by Barcelona and urged to up his game for the benefit of the team and himself.
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Now, Barcelona have picked up a few duds in the transfer market under Pep Guardiola’s management. In fact, it’s probably more accurate to say his success rate with ‘new’ players has been better when dipping into Barcelona B than actually looking to the transfer market.
In hindsight, Alexis was never really given a chance to succeed. He’s not a sprinter in the Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott mould, but he is a player who needs a high defensive line to play against. Barcelona’s game, which sees them prod and probe a deep-sitting back four is just not his game, and that became evident very early last season.
He has the technique, but you wonder if he has the know-how to be a very good Barcelona player. He was never going to get a run of games in the central position, where naturally Lionel Messi operates or, in his absence, Cesc Fabregas. This season specifically, Cristian Tello has been excellent, while Pedro is always the favoured option for the right side of attack.
It only really spells one outcome for Alexis, that being a departure come the end of the season.
Does that mean the Premier League’s elite — or at least those with the necessary funds — should be on alert? I’d be very cautious on a player down on his luck in the way Alexis is. It’s not that he’ll struggle to regain his composure and eventually his form at some stage in the future, but considering the nature of the English game, it would be a very big gamble if Barcelona are looking to recoup most of what they paid on the player.
Right now, he’s a player who is trying too hard. He’s not scoring goals and he’s not creating them either. The earlier part of the season saw Alexis take a few disappointing dives, but lately it’s been a battle to rid himself of the demons preventing him from putting the ball in the net, at least by his own accord.
When he’s good he can be a real threat to have in a team, but that hasn’t really been the case for a while at Barcelona. In England, he’d certainly play wide rather than through the middle. However, his desire to get on the score sheet and his tendency to drift inside means he’d appear as a second striker for the most part anyway.
I see absolutely no reason why he’d be at Barcelona next season, and with the club’s wish to bring Neymar in a year earlier, coupled with the growing reputation of those from La Masia, the numbers game would appear to leave Alexis out of the equation.
The Chilean forward is still very young and has plenty of time on his side to become an excellent player again. If Premier League clubs find a way to bring Barcelona’s valuation down this summer, they may be onto a very good buy. Anything above, say, £15 million would be a big risk.