English football should be full of admiration for the Chilean’s physical resilience
Alexis Sanchez has been truly exceptional since arriving in England.
Sanchez’s ability has been glaringly apparent since his time at Udinese and even before he moved to Barcelona he was rightly considered to be a star of the game. Even so, any time an English club pays £35m for a player who has no Premier League experience, there are understandably misgivings over his ability to translate.
The Chilean’s style of play is very watchable; he is a perfect blend of speed, skill, vision and attacking intent.
Typically, though, both Serie A and La Liga are far more forgiving environments for someone possessing those attributes. English football, despite its evolution over the last twenty years, is still very attritional and is as much a test of physical endurance as it is technique.
Prior to his arrival, that was the caveat with Sanchez. Gloriously instinctive footballer though he was, he looked like the kind of player who could be bullied and who, over a period of months, might have his influence eroded by creeping fatigue.
That’s a common problem. When stylistically similar attacking players have arrived here in the past, they’ve generally suffered during their first season.
Juan Mata made a very promising start at Chelsea in 2011 before fading badly during the Winter. David Silva suffered a similar decline in influence over the course of his first year.
Similarly, Arsenal’s own Mesut Ozil fell-away dramatically last season after a revelatory first few months and is yet to really recover his equilibrium.
Those three cases aren’t identical, but there are common themes binding them and they had all entered the Premier League from Spanish football.
All of those players are slight in stature and all of them enjoy having the ball at their feet, which meant that not only did they have to adjust to the actual conditioning requirement of English football, but they also had to endure a different level of physical attention to what they had previously experienced.
The game in this country is no longer terrorised by hatchetmen and ankle-breakers, but contact is still tolerated more than in any other European league and players do have to be more durable.
Alexis Sanchez is different to Mata, Ozil or Silva. He operates in a similar part of the pitch, but he’s far more aggressive than any of them.
His goal-scoring and touches in the final-third may be the most noticeable part of his game, but his work-rate is also exceptional and his 2014/15 highlight reel is littered with examples of him carrying the ball from deep positions and working tirelessly without possession.
Is Alexis Sanchez the best signing of the season so far? Where would Arsenal be without him? http://t.co/lpx5C1fIWH
— Football Central (@FootballCentral) January 12, 2015
He’s not just a flair player, he’s a blue-collared combatant who seems to operate permanently at the extent of his athletic capability and, in so doing, is bucking the trend of that first season lull.
It is only January and, of course, there is still time for the transition to catch up with the Chilean, but remember that – having played almost fifty games for Barcelona last season – his participation in the World Cup prevented him from having any significant time off in the Summer.
Given all of Sanchez’s obvious footballing ability, it seems contrary to focus on anything other than his technique or literal influence. But this is a player who relies very heavily on dynamism to be effective and who, in spite of all the factors working against him, has maintained a staggeringly high level of performance.
First and foremost, Sanchez is a world-class attacking talent, obviously, but don’t let that get in the way of your appreciation for what an athlete he is.
He’s moved seamlessly into a new league and has become a dominant force within it without breaking stride.