Sanchez’s Arsenal form rubbing salt in Liverpool’s wounds
It is almost as Brendan Rodgers imagined.
Allowed to leave Barcelona to make way for Luis Suarez, Alexis Sanchez has had an immediate impact in England.
He has brought pace and potency, but his contribution cannot just be measured by his scoring record.
His goals are not just well-taken, but they have been scored at vital moments; Sanchez has opened the scoring eight times this season.
He got the late winner against Southampton and delivered the strike against Besiktas that guaranteed a share of the Uefa Champions League riches.
The one thing Rodgers did not imagine is that those goals have been delivered in the red of Arsenal, not of Liverpool.
Anfield gets its first chance on Sunday to see the player who could have been a worthy replacement for Suarez.
While the Uruguayan may be a striker and the Chilean a winger, the similarities are such that Arsene Wenger was drawn to comment upon them in October.
It probably was not his intention, but he was rubbing salt into Liverpudlian wounds.
“When Suarez gives the ball to an opponent, he wins it back straight away,” he said. “Sanchez is the same.
“There is no time between the offence and defence. The transition is very quick, and they are very quick as well.”
It is, he suggested, a South American mentality. These are street footballers who gravitated to the major stage – their skills were refined, but their attitude was not.
Suarez remained as essentially lawless, but his will to win, his speed, skill and surging runs, elevated a team.
Sanchez may not have the same charismatic personality or the same magnetic attraction to controversy, but he succeeds by stealth. He is the more clinical finisher.
But, as Liverpool know to their cost, he preferred the bright lights of London.
Wenger suggested the key factors were Arsenal’s style of play and their ability to guarantee Champions League football on an annual basis.
Whichever, the Merseysiders sold Suarez and could not sign the superstar they wanted, which led them on a long road in the search for striking reinforcements.
Loic Remy failed a medical, and subsequently joined Chelsea. Radamel Falcao ended up at Manchester United, and Liverpool bought Mario Balotelli.
Somehow – though it is not entirely his fault – it all comes back to Balotelli.
He is suspended for Sunday’s game for an Instagram post with racist connotations, and the Italian is yet to record a league goal for Liverpool.
Indeed, Sanchez’s nine-goal Premier League total for Arsenal betters the combined haul of Balotelli, Fabio Borini, Daniel Sturridge, Rickie Lambert, Lazar Markovic, Adam Lallana, Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling.
It means Arsenal, despite their struggles this season, have always had a scorer. Liverpool had two last year, in Suarez and Sturridge, but none this year, with Sturridge having not played since August because of injury.
Sanchez’s predatory instinct is not all Liverpool miss, as part of his appeal is in his versatility.
Rodgers likes to switch systems, and tactically flexible players give him greater facility to experiment.
Indeed, Liverpool are set to use a winger – Sterling – as a striker against Arsenal.
“He is not an out-and-out striker, but his speed in front of the back four and behind them causes problems,” Rodgers said on Wednesday, before drawing a pertinent comparison.
“He can get it, turn and go at defenders. In that role, you think of Alexis Sanchez when he plays for Arsenal.”
Yet Sterling, 20, has neither the Chilean’s background in leading the line nor his scoring record. Sterling is, at best, Plan D as the leader of the line.
Yet with Sturridge still absent, Balotelli too unpredictable and Lambert, after two goals in as many games, too ineffective, Sterling will stand in.
He ended a 21-game wait for a goal for club and country with two goals at Bournemouth on Wednesday.
Sanchez’s own drought stands at two games, in which he hit the post and recorded three assists – a remarkable level of productivity from a flair player.
It all explains why Liverpool wanted to buy him.
Instead, they have received much criticism, most of it deserved, for the nine men they did recruit. Their underperforming transfer committee at least succeeded in identifying the right sort of target.
Yet Liverpool have spent much of the past four months rueing the one that got away.
Those feelings of regret could be all the greater when they face Sanchez on Sunday.
Follow us on Twitter at @SprtNationalUAE
Published: December 20, 2014 04:00 AM