Opinion: The derby could be a perfect stage for Alexis
The wheel away, the knee slide and the double fist-pump goal celebration said it all. Alexis Sanchez had broken through a testing period at Manchester United - and it couldn’t be more timely.
During the international break, manager Jose Mourinho’s January transfer coup from Arsenal was on duty with Chile and admitted candidly that his Old Trafford baptism hadn’t lived up to his own expectations.
“As I am self-demanding, I expected something better,” the forward said. It was an honest appraisal of the opening two months of his Reds career. Alexis cited a first ever mid-season switch as part of the reason why he has found it difficult to settle down and make an instant impact. But Saturday's game against Swansea City could be a watershed moment for the South American.
He scored only his second goal for the club, following his first against Huddersfield Town in the Premier League in February. The drilled, guided right foot shot past Swansea goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski doubled the lead and made the points pretty much assured by the 20-minute mark.
Not only that but he also added an assist to his stats when he set up Romelu Lukaku for United’s first of the afternoon. They were the central moments of Alexis’s personal contribution that all added up to the 29-year-old winning Man of the Match.
When he was brought off in the 75th minute, he was afforded a standing ovation from all sides of a grateful stadium. Job done. It was just what Alexis needed ahead of the Manchester derby, at the Etihad Stadium against City this Saturday teatime.
The Chilean was a target for Blues boss Pep Guardiola last summer but the transfer didn’t materialise. It looked like being revived in the January window until Jose Mourinho stepped in and lured him to United from Arsenal under the noses of the neighbours.
Alexis’s situation draws parallels with Robin van Persie in 2012. Back then, the Reds were hurting from that painful last-day title win for City. Sir Alex Ferguson’s response was a masterstroke piece of business. With van Persie’s contract situation at the Emirates public knowledge and City’s then manager Roberto Mancini showing a keen interest and being heavily linked with a move for the Dutch striker, Sir Alex stepped in.
City were miffed, Mancini was said to be annoyed with the Blues hierarchy for not pushing through his wish to land RVP. United and our manager were delighted. It was an astute purchase that was vital to United winning back the Premier League crown, 12 months after the hurt at Sunderland.
It wasn’t exactly a title-winning moment and karma for the Reds, but it was certainly a defining moment. Five years on and United have once again usurped City for an Arsenal goalscorer. The last thing United fans want to endure this weekend at the Etihad is to be another victim of Guardiola’s side and be on the neighbours' home patch when they clinch the 2017/2018 league title.
Delaying the celebrations would be some comfort for the Reds and leaving City’s ground with the champagne bottles still corked and a win under the belt would provide extra belief for next season.
An in-form Alexis is vital for the showdown. And just as the script was as good as written for van Persie to curl in that delicious winner in the winter of 2012, so the stage could be set for the Chilean to be centre stage of all the headlines this weekend. For me, it does have the feel of inevitability about it.
The opinions in this story are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester United Football Club.