Alexis Sanchez scored fifteen goals last season, which was second on the team behind only Lionel Messi.
In 2012-13, he has one.
Having just turned 24 last month, he should be on the up. Yet, he seems to be heading the opposite way. What’s happening?
For a striker, confidence can make or break a season. Not scoring in a game can turn into going blank for two, then three, until it’s a drought he cannot escape.
When he was asked to rate himself earlier this season, Alexis said he deserved a six. A fair assessment, but does it communicate hunger or self-doubt?
Alexis averages 0.6 shots per game, just a third of his 1.8 per game last season. His assist numbers, on the other hand, have improved – he is now sixth on the team in that tally.
His key passes per game stat has improved as well, and he’s behind only Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, Xavi, and Messi in that regard.
This suggests Alexis is either being instructed to pass more, or does not feel confidence in himself to shoot. Or perhaps, he is not making the right runs to position himself for better shots.
His dribbling has not been exemplary, and he needs to be able to stay on his feet more (whether he is diving or simply not strong enough I will not judge.) Though it’s true that he is fouled frequently (third-most behind Iniesta and Messi), at other times he needs to keep his balance better.
This leads to him losing the ball quite frequently, which, while understandable from a forward, is not justified by his goal production. The Chilean also is offside too frequently and must time his runs better.
Defensively, Alexis has been good in patrolling his flank and tracking back. He is second on the team in tackles by an attacking player behind Fabregas, who perhaps is more naturally inclined to tackle since he plays in the middle of the pitch.
To sum up, Alexis has taken one step forward but two steps back. He continues to do the less-noticeable things better – his passing has improved, he makes intelligent runs to create space for Messi, and he defends with energy. On the other hand his weak finishing and propensity for turnovers remain a glaring weakness.
He probably already has lost his place in the starting XI to Fabregas, and may be surpassed by David Villa as the team’s foremost sub (if the last match is anything to go by, this has already happened). The next part of the season will be absolutely crucial in determining how Alexis’s career will play out. We shall see..
Alexis might not shoot that much, but his finishing has not been great when he does take a shot. His miss against Valladolid was not even technically a shot, as he slipped and did not connect with a cross that could have been an easy goal. In fairness, the pitch was slippery.
There are a few other glaring misses - not that many, but when you don't put many away, the misses are easier to remember.
His lone goal was in the Champions League, away to a pretty good Benfica team. That’s something to be proud of. On the other hand, his key interventions have been through assists, usually to Messi.
Against Mallorca, he came on as a sub for David Villa. In limited time, Alexis displayed good awareness, using his chest to set up Messi’s strike to make it 4-2. With a two goal lead, the Blaugrana comfortably coasted to a league win.
His most crucial intervention came at the beginning of the season, with Barca losing 0-1 to Osasuna. Alexis recovered a deflected Pedro Rodriguez cross, took a touch, and squared it to Messi for a fairly straight-forward finish. After the equalizer, Messi would strike again, giving Barca an important, late victory.
Perhaps his most impressive assist was the one he gave against Cordoba in the cup, again to Messi, to make it 2-0. We still do not know how decisive it will be, as the tie is yet to be decided, but it does give Barca a comfortable edge.
Receiving the ball on the flank, the Chilean hit it first time, with perfect weight and spin. The ball went just beyond two Cordoba defenders, taunting them, before looping back on a perfect arc to find Messi. The Argentine stuck it in the back of the net and immediately pointed to his fellow South American and provider.