London — Alexis Sanchez heads to Wembley for the FA Cup final against Chelsea hoping the magic of the cup will again prove the inspiration needed for the Chilean to kickstart a slow start to his Manchester United career.
Sanchez is no plucky underdog. He signed one of the most lucrative contracts in Premier League history when penning a four-and-a-half-year contract at Old Trafford in January. However, the home of English football and its end-of-season showpiece is where Sanchez has often shone brightest.
Sanchez arrived at United from Arsenal to much fanfare as his mid-season signing was a rare victory for United over cross-city rivals and Premier League champions Manchester City this season in winning the race for his signature.
Yet, Sanchez has so far failed to deliver on that expectation — scoring just three times in 17 appearances. By a distance his most important goal for United came in the FA Cup semifinal in April as his equaliser propelled Jose Mourinho’s men to a 2-1 win over Tottenham and his third FA Cup final in four seasons in England.
He scored in the 2015 and 2017 cup finals to inspire Arsenal to victories over Aston Villa and Chelsea.
It was also Sanchez’s eighth goal in eight appearances at Wembley for club and country.
Mourinho has been a fierce defender of his marquee recruit, with the Portuguese blaming the timing of his move for Sanchez’s inability to hit top form.
"What is wrong is that he came at the worst moment of the season… that’s why I don’t like the winter market very much. I think this was a chance that we didn’t want to lose and we took it," said Mourinho.
"Hopefully next season he will be better, which is what we think is going to happen.
"I am not a big fan of buying players in the winter market because of the period of adaptation, especially with attackers."
Mourinho’s hunch that next season will see a significant improvement is helped by Chile’s failure to qualify for the World Cup, handing Sanchez a first tournament-free off-season for four years.
Saturday will be his 301st game in the past five seasons for club and country.
On international duty in March, he admitted that toll had left him "psychologically and emotionally exhausted".
Especially when at his best, Sanchez’s style and game relies on explosive bursts to get beyond defences.
"He’s not afraid to take responsibility," Mourinho said.
"He’s not afraid to try to make things happen. When he feels that he’s not as dangerous as you would like him to be he drops back, he tries things, he tries to come to building-up areas. When he makes mistakes, he tries to compensate immediately," the manager said.
Despite his workload, Sanchez has made a habit of ending the season strongly in FA Cup finals.
Should he repeat his feat from last season by beating Chelsea and join esteemed company by scoring in a third final, Sanchez’s mistakes since arriving in Manchester will be forgiven and forgotten.