With Barcelona, Alexis Sanchez has a defines, limited role. Playing for Chile, it’s a very different story, as the talented forward has pretty much a free role to go wherever he wants on the pitch, resulting in some brilliant football from his team in their win over Australia, and a fantastic assist from Sanchez in the second goal.
Sanchez is a right winger when he plays for Barcelona. The presence of Lionel Messi makes it difficult for him to go anywhere else. Sure, he does try and steal his way behind defenses and provide an option in the middle, but against deep defensive lines, Sanchez proves to be far less effective if he tries to do something in the middle.
With Chile, things are different. Eduardo Vargas is the team’s main striker and something of a target man, although with the kind of size Chilean players have, it’s hard to describe any of them but Mauricio Pinilla who came on in the final minutes as an actual target man. Sanchez plays slightly behind with a pull to the right – a blend between a right winger, supporting striker and attacking midfielder.
The result? It was hard to argue with the two goals he was involved in – scoring one and adding an assist on the second, as almost every ball that went through him resulted in a chance for Chile. Jorge Valdivia kept making himself available as he ventured into the middle while Vargas and Sanchez kept pulling the defense in different directions.
The key was playing one touch football and immediately moving into a surprising direction the moment the ball is released. In truth, that should be something you see from almost every team, and yet football philosophies remain something that national sides hardly change despite the exposure of everyone to modern, top-level football through their best players.
Things might have been a bit more consistent for Chile if Arturo Vidal would have been playing healthy. Their midfield lagged off in the second half, without their best player and a regular dynamo in the middle of the pitch to force them into keeping up the pace and keeping the ball instead of kicking it forward in panic, struggling under the pressure of the Australian crossing.
Chile have just one mode – fast football. The problem is that when they don’t move it from player to player there is no in between or an attempt to slow things down through possession. Instead of moving the ball with patience and to the right men, panic took over in the second half, and Sanchez didn’t touch the ball as much as he should have.
It’s still not over in Group B. Spain can rise again and Chile have two very difficult matches remaining to see if they make it into the round of 16. Alexis Sanchez isn’t the only key player in that effort to finish in the top two but in his current form and deployment, without him being at his finest Chile have no chance of making it.