Saturday, 23 July 2011

Alexis Sanchez is Barcelona's second Messi

It is a huge title to live up to, especially if you are joining a club that contains  arguably the greatest group of players in a generation. After all, there's nothing like a training session with Lionel Messi to put you firmly in your place. 

And it is hardly as if the reigning Ballon d'Or winner is a one-man attacking force at the Camp Nou. The little Argentine's 53 goals in all competitions last season set a new club record, but as an attacking triplet him, David Villa and Pedro scored 98 goals between them in ten months. That's an astonishing 98 goals in 62 games.

But this is the gargantuan task that now awaits Alexis Sanchez at Barcelona; breaking into one of the most cohesive and precise attacking units in world football. There was a reason the excited spanish media named them the 'MVP' last year.

So, why have Barcelona spent a fee of up to 37.5 million euros to draft in the ex Udinese player, choosing to prioritize the signing of the Chilean international over their pursuit of Arsenal's Cesc Fabregas?

You have probably gathered this already, but he isn't bad.Those who have known him since a young age have said that he has always been destined to be ranked as one of the world's best.

As the man who brought Sanchez into the first team at Cobreloa as a 16-year-old, said recently, "The first time I saw him I said he had no limits. He has everything. Normally in young boys there is something missing, be it skill, or vision, or the ability to beat a man. Not in Alexis. That is very rare."

Last season at Udinese he crucially added versatility to his list of attributes.

Although he is invariably described as a winger, a position he has performed in for both club and country in the last few years, in the second part of the Serie A campaign Sanchez performed as another striker, playing off Antonio Di Natale, that he excelled, eventually scoring 12 goals and picking up six assists as Udinese secured a place in the Champions League.

The standout performance was his four-goal haul in a 7-0 demolition of Palermo, at Palermo. Even Messi has only scored four goals once in a game - that famous night against Arsenal in the Champions League in 2010. Evidently the move to a central role brought the best out of the young Chilean star.

Coach Francesco Guidolin explained Sanchez's change in positon,"We took a gamble on Sanchez. He had always played wide, but I put forward the idea of playing him behind the striker. From a central position he can be even more decisive. Playing there he is more unpredictable, harder to keep tabs on."

It is surely his ability to play anywhere across the front three that has made his transfer to Barcelona so attractive to the Champions of Europe, particularly when you consider the scarcity of options available to them should the Messi suffer a serious injury.

Bojan, on the brink of signing for Roma, was never able to quite make the breakthrough, despite his remarkable record at La Masia and promise shown initially. Furthermore, with Ibrahim Afellay either used in midfield or out wide, Barcelona had no real alternative to Messi in his role.

Though Villa could move across from the left, even Spain's record goalscorer and one of Europe's most prolific strikers of the past decade is not suited to the role's specific demands.

However, with his adaptability and enthusiasm to drift into space wherever it can be found, not to mention his brilliant dribbling, close control and finishing, Sanchez clearly has many of the same qualities that have made Messi the ultimate interpretation of what has been called the ‘False Nine' role.

Though initially, at least, Sanchez could be given game time at the expense of Pedro on the right wing - despite the Spaniard's faultless service that has seen him hailed as "absolutely fundamental" by Guardiola, critics reckon it will be as a deputy for Messi that the Sanchez star could prove his true worth for his new side.

Either way, Barca now have four formidable attacking options to fill three position thanks the ‘MVP' and ‘El Nino Maravilla'.

With an ability to rotate through their four forwards when the occasion demands, Pep Guardiola has an attacking force to equal the passing unit so admired and feared by Sir Alex Ferguson, and built by Xavi and Andres Iniesta in midfield.

It is an important step, because for all their brilliance last season, Guardiola's side always looked one or two injuries away from a crisis given the lack of depth in their squad. Messi, Villa and Pedro were guaranteed starters in every important game.

While improving on near perfection is an almost impossible task, the addition of Sanchez demonstrates perfection can be reinforced, strengthened. His transfer will probably ensure Barca's grip on La Liga, and possibly Europe, is just as secure.