When you’re new anywhere and you’re interested in being liked, it’s usually a good idea to hew to the party line, make yourself look humble, and generally not rock the boat. In football, this is a pretty good way of winning over fans. It can become something of a burden on teams that fan favorites are sometimes not anywhere near the best players on their team yet no one will stand for them not being picked (stand right on up, Steve Gerrard). To become a fan favorite, you often have to stress how hard you’re working and how you’ve got so much more to give to the squad. You do have to perform sometimes, but whenever you have a bad game (or string of games), coming out and saying “I have to play harder” is pretty much the best thing you can do.
Alexis Sanchez graded himself in a press conference recently as 5 out of 10. Most cules probably nodded so hard they gave themselves whiplash. And now they’re likely to be less harsh on him. So, good job, Alexis, you’ve given yourself a little cushion in your upcoming couple of performances. Yet, has he also been entirely truthful? He’s not the goalscoring machine some would like him to be (15 goals in 47 competitive matches), but he was never a goalscoring machine: with Udinese he scored 21 in 112 matches; with River Plate, 4 in 31; with Colo-Colo, 9 in 48; and with Cobreloa, 12 in 50. Technically he’s scoring more often than he has at any other time in his career; in fact, he’s scoring at a higher rate than Pedro has scored throughout his Barcelona career. And since Alexis arrived at FCB, Pedro’s performances have suffered a rather steep decline: 15 goals in 56 appearances.
Goals are, of course, not the only way to define players, but it goes a long ways when you finish passed Iker Casillas from what felt live like infinity far away to even up a clasico. Speed, precision, and technique are the hallmarks of Alexis’ game. He’s not overly fancy with his dribbling, preferring to beat people the simple way (by making the earlier run for the pace into space), but he’s no dud on the ball either. Yet the Barça system isn’t designed for him to speed to the corner on a diagonal run and then flip in a cross, so he’s had to relearn the timing and angles of his runs. And he’s done that.
Against Spartak Moscow, Alexis injected spacing, width, and workrate into the front third. His murderous tempo allowed Tello more freedom on the left while also allowing multi-pronged attacks through the middle. Still, he’s fallen over easily a few times and received a bit of stick for that from around the world. He’s missed some opportunities and failed to communicate with some of his teammates. But 5 out of 10? If 10 is Messi and 0 is Hleb, then sure, but direct comparisons to players playing in different positions are hard (can you compare QBs with WRs in the NFL?) and who wouldn’t want to be a 5 on that scale anyway?
Alexis is often talking with teammates about where to go, what to do, which is a good sign. It suggests that both he and his teammates are invested in his contributions to the team. I would rate him higher than 5, but then again, each performance demands something a little different out of him based on his alignment. He’s better as the point forward, causing havoc, but he’s learning to be the wing forward, dragging defenders out of the way.
Whatever he’s done incorrectly, I think he’s made up for it with work rate and footballing intelligence. And also unlike Hleb, who didn’t even bother learning the language, at least Alexis has picked up pretty good Spanish. Did you hear his accent? It’s pretty good!