It was unconvincing at times, frustrating at others, but Alexis Sanchez’s home debut at Old Trafford eventually ended in a well-deserved Manchester United win despite the teething problems which punctuated the afternoon.
The Red Devils recorded a 2-0 win over an obdurate Huddersfield Town side who regularly plonked nine men behind the ball and hoped for the best. As a relieved Jose Mourinho said afterwards, “We had to break down the Berlin wall organised so well by David Wagner.”
It was an approach which stifled Sanchez in particular, although he still managed to be United’s outstanding player in a goalless first half. The Chilean still appears to be getting used to the movement of his new team-mates, and it didn’t help that the likes of Romelu Lukaku and Jesse Lingard didn’t always look too sharp up against the Terriers’ bolstered back line.
Lukaku’s first touch continues to be a source of wider concern, while Lingard might have done better than to drill a low shot within Jonas Lossl’s reach after being set free in a one-on-one scenario midway through the opening period.
All the while, it was Sanchez who was looking to exploit the narrow space Huddersfield were allowing between the lines, and his frustration at not being able to fully take advantage resulted in a yellow card for hacking down Florent Hadergjonaj, after having been left picking himself off the ground a number of times.
He tried to claim a penalty even for a non-existent foul in the penalty area shortly after referee Stuart Attwell had ignored a brutal shoulder challenge by Terence Kongolo on Scott McTominay which ought to have resulted in a penalty and a straight red card.
United’s endeavour was finally rewarded 10 minutes after the break when Juan Mata switched over to the left and swung in a perfect low cross for Lukaku to turn home. On an otherwise unconvincing afternoon from the Belgian striker, this was a reminder that he can be deadly when teed up in the last 12 yards.
Sanchez needed a personal boost himself, though, and he was to grab a home debut goal at the second attempt on 68 minutes.
After being brought down by Michael Hefele, the 29-year-old stepped up to take the resulting penalty himself. His first effort was far too weak and central, allowing Lossl to block, but the keeper couldn’t hold on to the ball and Sanchez was able to net the rebound in front of the Stretford End.
He may well have lost possession on more occasions (35) than any United player had done previously in the Premier League this season, but Sanchez is likely to break that record many times over given his propensity to try new things in the opposition third rather than go for the easy sideways pass.
Perhaps he will eventually prove to be the difference between the Manchester United who have regularly been held to frustrating draws under Mourinho and one that can challenge for the league title in the future.
Early in the second half, there had been a banner dropped from the top tier of the East Stand in homage to Sanchez and his two dogs. ‘Welcome to Manchester, Alexis, Atom and Humber’ it said, but thankfully it was quickly removed to save any long-lasting embarrassment.
Instead, it was the player himself who got the final say, even if it wasn’t a match that will live long in the memory. Wednesday’s 2-0 loss to Tottenham at Wembley was a reminder that there is much work to be done at Old Trafford, and this was no less instructive despite the more favourable result.
With Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford all coming off the bench as second-half substitutes, there is more adjusting to be done in order to get all of United’s stars into the side and firing on all cylinders.
For now, at least Sanchez is slowly finding his feet.
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