The latest Barcelona player to be linked with a move to the top flight is forward Alexis Sanchez, and while for many it seems something of a long shot in the upcoming January transfer window, he remains a likely transfer target of clubs such as Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea in the summer – but would he fit in?
The 23-year-old has struggled for his best form since moving to the Camp Nou last season from Italian outfit Udinese for an inflated fee of €26million, plus a further €11m in add-ons and it quickly became clear that he was to play a vital part in Pep Guardiola’s side. By the end of last campaign, with the much-vaunted coach doing his best to eradicate out-and-out strikers in his team, alongside Lionel Messi, he was their most potent attacking threat and finished the term with 12 league goals in 25 games and 15 across all competitions. It was far from the blistering form which we had become accustomed to seeing from him in Serie A, but considering the team’s struggles, he did reasonably well by all accounts.
Nevertheless, the departure of Guardiola appears to have hit Sanchez harder than most and the rise of Christian Tello and resurgence of Pedro have seen him slide down the pecking order at the club under new boss Tito Vilanova to the extent that he’s no longer assured of a starting place. He remains goalless in 10 injury-disturbed league outings this season and has just one goal in 18 across all competitions. All is clearly not well, but where has it gone wrong?
The main problem comes with the team’s possession-based game in that it grants Sanchez less space in behind the opposition’s defence to stretch his legs and use his exceptional pace. Starting predominantly on the right, a lot of the team’s play down that flank is revolved around getting the best out of Daniel Alves, while the Brazilian can often be found linking up regularly with Lionel Messi, who drifts out wide from a central position.
It seems as if the league’s style of play has had an effect on his confidence and he’s garnered a reputation as something of a diver, which in Spain, is no mean feat. He can usually be found drifting in and out of matches, failing to impose himself and while his conversion rate has never been anything other than solid, the goal have dried up enough to warrant closer inspection of what else he does to contribute to the team.
Barcelona have opted for a far more direct approach this season, especially away from home, with the majority of their play coming down the flanks rather than through the middle, and while in theory this should suit Sanchez, he’s been unable to strike up a partnership with either Martin Montoya or Alves in the same way that he did with Mauricio Isla at Udinese and he’s simply not as comfortable playing with his back to goal than he is running into space behind.
The floating role that Messi occupies in the middle means the Chilean international lacks a fixed reference point and their understanding, while occasionally decent, is nothing like what the Argentine shares with his other attacking team-mates, most notably Cesc Fabregas. His role is to drag markers away from the middle, allowing Messi more space to exploit; it’s a selfless, somewhat sacrificial role much to the detriment of his overall impact on the side and he’d arguably suit Real Madrid’s counter-attacking style much more than Barcelona’s at the moment.
This has opened the door for a potential future switch to the Premier League, and while talk of a switch to Liverpool is fanciful to say the least given their recent standing in England, the possibility of both Manchester clubs and Chelsea being interested is a very real one.
The player’s agent Fernando Felicevich has ruled out a move for his client in the near future, telling todomercadoweb.es: “In no case will Alexis leave Barcelona. He has returned after injury and played well. Alexis stays in Barcelona.
“Has no reason to leave. He is at the best team in the world. In addition to that Barca has Messi, a player that everyone can learn from.”
Barcelona are not a club that you walk away from in a hurry, even if you are struggling, but should the rumours coming out of Old Trafford regarding Nani’s future come to fruition and the Portuguese winger be allowed to leave, then all of a sudden a spot has opened up in the side, with the jury still well and truly out on Ashley Young, while Manchester City’s lack of creativity from wide areas is well-documented.
Chelsea on the other hand, could perhaps do with another player to supplement their 4-2-3-1 system, with a heavy reliance on all three of Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar to start to have any sort of impact, and Marko Marin seems to have disappeared at Stamford Bridge since his surprise summer move.
It would be a great shame if Sanchez were to be dubbed a failure at Barcelona because he has the potential to be a world-class player when he matures, but his fragile confidence has played a part in making him an increasingly square peg in a round hole.
His future is far from assured, even if his recent struggles are understandable, and a move to England, where his pace, crossing ability and tactical awareness would mark him out as a superb signing for plenty of top flight clubs, even if only the Manchester duopoly and Chelsea stand a reasonable chance of tempting him away.