Alexis Sanchez: What does the future hold for Inter Milan forward?
Amid interest in Olivier Giroud and the blossoming partnership of Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez, is there a way back for Alexis Sanchez at Inter Milan?
By Tommaso Fiore
Last Updated: 16/01/20 3:32pm
Alexis Sanchez made his long-awaited comeback from injury for Inter Milan on Tuesday night, but is there any sign the Manchester United loanee will be able to turn his fortunes around at the San Siro?
Sanchez's season-long loan at the Serie A club hit a roadblock in October when he underwent surgery on an ankle tendon he ruptured while playing for Chile, ruling him out of action for three months.
But the success of the Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez strike force, paired with Inter's move for Chelsea striker Olivier Giroud, could spell a bleak future for him at the San Siro.
So how has the 30-year-old's return to Serie A been judged so far and where does his future lie?
A stroke of bad luck
Sanchez tiptoed his way into the Inter training ground in August, knowing that he had it all to do if he wanted to live up to his past name of one of the Premier League's most feared forwards when at Arsenal.
"It is up to us to help him find the form and the brilliance he has lost a little," Inter boss Antonio Conte said in September.
"Alexis is a footballer who has certain characteristics. He is a tough player, and sooner or later you will see him on the pitch."
Inter fans were aware of how the Chilean lost his Premier League spark in the long run. But flashbacks of his time at Udinese, where he forged himself as a natural talent before sealing a move to Barcelona, were still fresh and made for that little bit of excitement around him.
Those thrills were fuelled when Sanchez scored in the first half of his full debut at Sampdoria - but was then sent off 36 seconds after the break for simulation. Three days later, he returned to state his case at his former Camp Nou home and showed encouraging first signs of chemistry with Martinez, only to pick up a long-term injury in his next game.
These incidents prove Sanchez has suffered from some horrendous luck since joining Inter - as soon as he managed to hit the level he was vying for, he was pegged back twice.
However, even the most pessimistic Inter fan can only expect good things from the 30-year-old after he showed glimpses of his technique and skill on his return in Inter's Coppa Italia outing against Cagliari on Tuesday.
Sanchez is clearly not in top match fitness, which Conte stressed after their draw against Atalanta on Saturday, but his clear quality on the ball compensated for his lack of quantity.
Italian media agreed that "while his engine might not be fully up to speed, his feet are already looking sharp" - and when he will be at 100 per cent, he will "really start to entertain".
"I'm happy to see Alexis come back," said Conte. "We will need a bit more time to see the real version of him, but tonight he made an important first step of the journey. He showed that he is recovering and is getting close to a return regularly."
Lukaku and Martinez's monopoly
Injuries aside, it is easy to point to the reason why Sanchez's move has not worked out so far - the blistering success enjoyed by fellow former United striker Lukaku and Argentine rising star Lautaro Martinez.
The duo have built an impressive partnership on and off the pitch, steadily becoming a fan favourite and amassing 33 goals thus far. That makes up for over 60 per cent of Inter's offensive output and puts them among the most prolific striking duos in Europe by some distance.
It is certain that Sanchez currently has a minimal chance of regular first-team football and his Inter chances are likely to be reserved until late January and February, when the side will take to the pitch three times a week with Europa League and Coppa Italia knock-outs and a tough Serie A run-in.
That period will prove decisive in Sanchez's career as Conte will not be able to risk playing his favourite striking duo game-in, game-out - and a player of Sanchez's quality will undoubtedly enjoy serious game-time and opportunities to impress both his own dugout and those sat on the sofa over in Manchester.
A beneficial Arsenal reunion?
Meanwhile Inter are closing in on signing Olivier Giroud, out-of-favour under Frank Lampard at Chelsea, on a deal until June 2022 - and despite the move could conceivably reduce Sanchez's game time, it might also prove a blessing for his time at the San Siro.
The pair enjoyed a successful stint together at Arsenal, shaping up Arsene Wenger's front line between 2014 and 2018 and ending up as the club's top goalscorers for their first three seasons together. If a reunion does materialise, they will both hope they will take the chance to bring their Gunners chemistry to Serie A.
This time, however, Sanchez and Giroud will not be at the top of the manager's pecking order and they will more likely be pit against each other for a starting berth, especially taking into account that Lukaku and Martinez have never been both absent from Inter's starting lineup this campaign.
It was, eventually, doubts about Sanchez and his fitness to play second fiddle that led Inter to make a move for Giroud, who will be pushing for as many minutes on the pitch as possible ahead of leading France's attack at the Euros in the summer.
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