Manchester United host Reading in an FA Cup third round clash at Old Trafford on Saturday afternoon.
The Red Devils, of course, are heading into the fixture against the Championship strugglers as heavy favourites and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be hoping to maintain his 100% winning start to life as Jose Mourinho’s successor.
However, the Norwegian coach should also view this match as an opportunity to rotate his side and experiment with his tactics.
One man Solskjaer will be desperate to integrate into his starting XI is Alexis Sanchez. Since his January 2018 switch from Arsenal, the 30-year-old forward has seen his form plummet. In the weeks prior to his recent injury, he was failing to make Mourinho’s starting XI, and was often left out of the matchday squad entirely.
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Considering the 124-cap Chile international is the club’s highest-paid player (Total Sportek), and at his best is quite brilliant, it is vital that United can find a way to unlock his full potential.
If Solskjaer can get Sanchez back to his best and playing regularly, it would be a huge boost for United. Finding a tactical set-up that suits him, and works with the rest of the squad too, is the first step towards achieving that aim.
Sanchez is at his best on the flanks. With Anthony Martial currently impressing on the left, and Marcus Rashford having recently taken up a central role, the wide right berth could be Sanchez’s for the taking.
The Chilean is more than capable of replacing the creativity of Juan Mata or Jesse Lingard, who might have otherwise claimed that spot.
Next, Solskjaer must give Sanchez the freedom to express himself and take risks. At Arsenal, Arsene Wenger gave Sanchez this license and was rewarded for it with huge amounts of end-product from the attacker. Mourinho, meanwhile, stifled Sanchez with his tactical rigidity and inflexibility.
Getting Sanchez back in his best position and playing with freedom could be the ultimate test of Solskjaer’s reign at Old Trafford, and it is a task he should begin undertaking in this weekend’s FA Cup clash.