The Chilean forward has taken advantage of his first preseason in years and hinted that he can return to the form he showed at previous stops
Jose Mourinho’s biggest stars weren’t on tour. The manager won’t tire of reminding you of that.
Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rasford didn’t travel for Manchester United’s International Champions Cup contests. Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard didn’t either. It left a skeleton crew of experienced players trying to pull along some of United’s promising but green academy talents.
“The players with more experience are trying to help the young boys,” Mourinho said before United’s 2-1 victory against Real Madrid on Tuesday. “I know they’re pretty tired because they’re playing almost every minute of every match and we play one match every three days, but there’s the pride, the professionalism and they’re going to try to help the young boys and the young boys have to enjoy the occasion with big crowds. Real Madrid is always a motivation for everyone, so we’re going do our best then go home and finally wait for the boys who were in the World Cup.”
The most impressive player Tuesday night was Alexis Sanchez. The former Barcelona and Arsenal star was superb against Real Madrid, scoring the opening goal and winning a header to set up Ander Herrera for the second goal of the night.
It was an excellent finish to a good tour from Sanchez, one that started off looking like a disaster.
After visa issues forced him to miss the first match of United’s trip, Mourinho worried an opportunity may have been wasted to get the Chilean up to speed. His arrival in January was supposed to change the game but instead resulted in disappointment.
There was disappointment for United in the U.S. as well. The team never clicked, and an embarrassing 4-1 defeat to Liverpool in Michigan will stand out as the most-remembered moment of the tour. Sanchez stands out as one of the few bright spots.
This isn’t just Sanchez’s first full pre-season with United, it’s his first full pre-season in many years. Sanchez has been kept busy during a successful spell with the Chilean national team, winning the 2015 Copa America and the 2016 Copa America Centenario and taking part in the 2014 World Cup and 2017 Confederations Cup. Missing out on the 2018 World Cup has to be a huge frustration for 29-year-old, but the positive is that he was able to take part in United’s pre-season trainings and matches.
He has wasted no time in showing what he can bring for Mourinho’s side, scoring in the 12th minute of the team’s first ICC match (and converting his penalty in a marathon shootout they ended up winning 9-8, with the Red Devils having finished level with AC Milan after regulation).
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It shouldn’t escape notice that he’s also taken advantage of the absences. Sanchez is working to help young players along, applauding center back Timothy Fosu-Mensah in the 58th minute for a pass that didn’t involve the attack at all and directing traffic for much of the game. But he’s also filling in as the club’s No. 9. Lukaku should seize that role back when he’s ready to play again, though United’s Premier League opener against Leicester City on Aug. 10 may be too soon for the Belgian. That means Sanchez risks once again getting lost in the pack as he has at times during his first five months with Mourinho’s men.
For now, though, Mourinho has to be pleased with what he saw from his Chilean, even if he’s left wanting more from the majority of individuals he saw during the tour. Sanchez showed that he’s one of the veterans with pride and that he still has the ability to be the player United thought they bought last winter.