Opinion: Europe will fear Alexis and United
When Jose Mourinho sat in front of the press on his first day as Manchester United manager, back in June 2016, he delivered this blunt, rousing message to the club’s supporters.
“I prefer to be more aggressive and say we want to win. What is playing well? It is scoring more goals than the opponents, conceding less, making your fans proud because you give everything and you win. It is everything at the same time. It is an aggressive approach by myself. I want everything.”
Similarly, when new signing Alexis Sanchez settled into his first-ever MUTV interview on Monday, fresh from completing his transfer from Arsenal, the Chilean was typically direct in his ambition.
“I believe that, at this club, it’s possible to achieve anything,”he explained.
“The badge says it all, it’s a huge club on a worldwide scale, and I want to come here and win everything: the Premier League, the Champions League, and whatever comes the club’s way in the future.”
It seems Mourinho and Alexis share a bullish mentality and, in fairness, everyone at football’s elite level does. To be surrounded by winners is presumably among the reasons why he signed for us.
The European Cup is stitched into the fabric of our club and this season’s return to the competition has been relished, particularly after confidently finishing top of Group A with 15 points from 18. The knockout stages now await and a last-16 tie against Sevilla, an opponent we’ve never faced before.
Most fans are convinced we can dispatch the Spanish side, after last season’s successful navigation of the Europa League knockout rounds against similar foes, yet it’s fair to suggest most supporters have not been truly confident of lifting the big-eared trophy in Kiev. Perhaps, that is, until now…
Mourinho has recruited another world‑class player in his mission to make United a European force again, adding to an increasingly-influential spine that already includes the world’s best goalkeeper David De Gea, one of the game’s most powerful midfielders Paul Pogba and the quietly-prolific striker Romelu Lukaku, who is on course to exceed Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s 2016/17 tally of 28 goals.
The big guns have taken note and, while Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid remain the favourites, perhaps with Manchester City, none of them will want to face us.
Where Alexis plays in a team that has the Champions League’s second-best defensive record and a pacey, potent attacking presence remains to be seen. But his penchant for attacking the jugular and exploiting weak spots, scoring goals from situations that appear impossible, could reap massive rewards in Europe, particularly in tight games when profligacy in front of goal cannot be afforded.
Vlog: Counting down to Alexis' debutVideo
Sevilla represent our first challenge in February and, should we progress from the last 16, anything can happen - especially when you consider that several big names will have been knocked out by then, with Juventus paired with Tottenham Hotspur, Real with PSG and Chelsea with Barcelona.
Whether we exceed expectations or not, it is thrilling to be back on Europe’s big stage with a squad that should be increasingly competitive in the latter stages. That is just one of many, many reasons why the signing of Alexis Sanchez at the peak of his powers, with a point to prove, is perfect business for Manchester United.
The opinions in this story are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester United Football Club.