When Chilean international Alexis Sanchez was signed by FC Barcelona in the summer of 2011, he was coming off of his best season as a professional as he scored 12 league goals and had 10 assists in 31 Serie A games for Udinese as he helped the northern Italian club qualify in Champions League position in the 2010-11 season. Given that he was a key catalyst, Sanchez was one of the hottest young prospects in the game and Barcelona paid 37 million euros to acquire him.
In his first two seasons with Barcelona, Sanchez had put up nice and respectable numbers of 20 goals and 15 assists in 54 La Liga games. However, it was not a noticeable impact. Part of the reason was that Sanchez had several nagging injuries that saw him spending a lot of time not being 100-percent fit and as a result. He was primarily a substitute. The other part of the reason for Sanchez not being as dynamic had to do with tactics. Under Pep Guardiola and Tito Vilanova, the tiki-taka passing favored by Barcelona meant that the team played through Lionel Messi exclusively in the final third. This meant that Sanchez and David Villa, now at Atlético Madrid, had trouble fully adjusting to having to play to and for Messi all the time.
After having had a very good finish to the 2012-13 season, Sanchez entered the 2013-14 season looking to force his way onto the squad as a regular contributor and squad player who can have a regular impact when he got the chance to play as either a starter or as a substitute. So far, Sanchez is reminding everyone why he was such hot property back in the summer of 2011 as he has so far in nine league games scored seven goals and has assisted on three others. His play so far this season has been highlighted by the fact he has scored game winning goals against Real Madrid in ‘El Clasico’ and against Espanyol in the Catalan Derby.
So what explains Alexis Sanchez playing as well as he has so far? The answer is two fold. First and foremost, Sanchez is healthy and did not come into the preseason injured. This allowed Sanchez the opportunity to adapt and get comfortable with what new coach Gerardo Martino would be expecting of him in terms of tactics and tactical positioning. The second explanation for Sanchez’s revival has to do with Martino coming in and varying the team’s tactical approach.
While Barcelona still goes with the tiki-taka passing concept and plays as Plan A, Martino has come in and changed that by including some more direct play and jumping-line passing concepts. This has benefited Sanchez in that he can now make runs with the ball into the penalty area as opposed to having to play through Messi before stepping foot into the penalty area.
As a result, this has liberated Sanchez and allowed him to be more aggressive and go for a shot on goal if that option is available to him. The fact that he has scored seven league goals shows that he now is comfortable tactically and combine that with good health, means Barcelona are seeing the Alexis Sanchez they expected when they signed him back in 2011.