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Alexis Sanchez delivers to help Manchester United overcome Tottenham
Last Updated: 22/04/18 9:51am
Alexis Sanchez has taken time to settle at Manchester United but he delivered a match-winning performance in Saturday's FA Cup semi-final against Tottenham. Could it be a turning point?
Alexis Sanchez loves a trip to Wembley. With the towering header from Paul Pogba's cross which set Manchester United on the path to victory against Tottenham, he made it eight goals in eight appearances under the arch for club and country. Sanchez, a two-time FA Cup winner with Arsenal, will now return in a month's time for another shot at the prize.
Whether it comes against Chelsea or Southampton, history suggests it would be unwise to bet against him. For Manchester United, the FA Cup presents an opportunity to end the season on a high. For Sanchez, it might already have provided the turning point he needed.
It had been a slow start to his Manchester United career. Sanchez's move from the Emirates Stadium to Old Trafford was one of the most hyped transfers in Premier League history, but his first three months in his new surroundings threw up more questions than answers: Had Sanchez lost his edge? Was he burnt out? Was he justifying his place in the team?
His performances in the wins over Swansea and Manchester City - when he scored once and provided three assists across the two games - suggested he was beginning to recapture his form, but when he was dropped in the wake of his subdued showing in the loss to West Brom, he found himself under scrutiny again.
Sanchez was an unused substitute for the 2-0 win over Bournemouth on Wednesday, with Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford impressing in his absence, and after just two goals in his first 13 appearances in all competitions, many supporters would have been content to see him stay on the bench against Spurs.
Instead, he got his chance and he seized it. Sanchez, refreshed from his night off at the Vitality Stadium, took his goal brilliantly, ghosting into space in Tottenham's box and appearing to hang in the air as he powered Pogba's delivery home. His confidence grew with the goal and Manchester United soon moved into the ascendency.
Sanchez posed problems for Spurs throughout and he was instrumental in United's second goal, too, using his strength to hold off Kieran Trippier before turning and picking out Romelu Lukaku on the edge of the box. The Belgian's touch was wayward, but Ander Herrera met the loose ball with an emphatic drive to complete the turnaround.
Sanchez's contribution vindicated Mourinho's backing and his efforts without the ball were just as impressive as what he conjured with it. The Chilean worked furiously throughout, tracking back and pressing relentlessly. His intensity set the tone for United, with Spurs, so often the pace-setters themselves, struggling to match them.
Sanchez sustained it from start to finish. He could be seen chasing down Davinson Sanchez and Trippier deep in Spurs territory three minutes from time, only to reappear on the edge of his own box 20 seconds later, snapping at Jan Vertonghen's heels and preventing a cross. When he was substituted in stoppage time, he left the field drenched in sweat.
For Mourinho, the message had been heeded. "I tell Alexis what I told Paul Pogba a couple of weeks ago," he said afterwards. "I cannot expect my players to be man of the match every match, I cannot expect them to score goals every match, I cannot expect them to be perfect every match. What I expect is a certain level that they cannot go below.
"That level is the basic things in the game. If you do the basic things in the game and then, in some matches, your talent appears and makes the difference, that's fine. So I'm not waiting for Alexis in the next match to score again and be the man of the match, I just want him to be stable."
Maintaining this level of performance is the challenge for Sanchez now, but he certainly chose this moment well. Questions have been answered for now, and before attention turns to next months' FA Cup final, there is next Sunday's meeting with Arsenal at Old Trafford. On this evidence, his former club should be prepared to feel his full force.
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