Alexis Sanchez’s arrival at Old Trafford has sparked joy among supporters as he is a world-class star in the prime of his career. The last time Man Utd signed Arsenal’s star forward it earned them the Premiership title, and fans will hope the Chilean can have a similar impact to Robin van Persie. The likes of Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford welcomed him to the club effusively, but they may be nervous about the game time his arrival will cost them. Jose Mourinho now has a dearth of outrageously talented forwards at his disposal and he cannot fit them all into one starting 11. It is a nice dilemma to have, but there will be casualties, so who will lose out?
Well first off, this should spell the end of Juan Mata’s time at the Theatre of Dreams. He is becoming an increasingly peripheral figure for Man Utd and Mourinho has already sold him once, from Chelsea to Utd. There is a sense that the Portuguese has never trusted Mata to fit into his system – despite his obvious attacking talent he lacks the pace and awareness to defend well – and he could well be moved on again soon. You could argue that Sanchez will simply replace Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who went to Arsenal in the swap deal, but the Armenian was also marginalised under Mourinho and did not play much.
There are essentially four places and five players vying for them: Sanchez, Lingard, Rashford, Romelu Lukaku and Anthony Martial. Six if you throw in Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has not seen much action since his return from injury but is still an extremely brilliant forward. Throughout the season there will be various injuries and suspensions, and the need to rotate, so Sanchez, Lingard, Rashford, Lukaku and Martial should all see plenty of minutes on the pitch. But if it was the Champions League final and they were all available, who would play?
That is not beyond the realms of possibility, by the way. Man Utd are favourites to beat Sevilla in the last 16 and look a good bet to do, so before wagering make sure to research the odds at most trusted betting sites and after that anything can happen. Mourinho is a master at knockout tournaments, and he has twice won the Champions League, so they look an interesting option at 17/1 with some bookmakers.
If they make the final, Sanchez has to start. People say he went to Man Utd instead of Man City for the money, as Utd were offering him higher wages. Others say he chose the red half of Manchester because Utd are simply the bigger club. But it could really be down to the fact that Sanchez absolutely loathes being substituted or sitting on the bench with a virulent passion, and Pep Guardiola rotates his forwards. He will be confident of nailing down a place in Man Utd’s attack.
Ibrahimovic is unlikely to start, and Mourinho normally starts four attackers in front of Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba nowadays, so three of Lukaku, Martial, Rashford and Lingard should get in the team. Lukaku has endured goal droughts this season, but he offers something different to the other four: aerial ability, physical presence and the ability to hold the ball up. As a £75 million signing, you would expect him to start. Jesse Lingard makes a strong case for inclusion as he has been on a tremendous upward curve of late and has been scoring eye-catching screamers aplenty. His marauding runs from deep are sometimes breath-taking, and his finishing has improved. He can play slightly deeper than Martial and Rashford too. That leaves the final two, and right now – for all Rashford’s promise – Martial looks the more complete player, and the more adept at playing out wide.
Sanchez, Lingard and Martial behind Lukaku, with Pogba marauding forwards and Matic protecting the back four, that looks like an extremely strong and talented team. The four attackers could all swap positions throughout the game as they are all versatile forwards that can dovetail with one another. Then you have Rashford to come on, along with Ibrahimovic. Utd also have the world’s best goalkeeper in David De Gea, and a decent defence, if one in need of a bit of surgery. When you look at the strength of the starting line-up and the bench, there is every reason to think that Man Utd are in with a great chance of winning the Champions League this year.