FC Barcelona: The Enigma that is Alexis Sanchez

David Ramos

The future of FC Barcelona's forward Alexis Sanchez has been a hot topic once again lately, with a move back to Italy rumored. But is it really the best time for Alexis to leave the Catalan capital?

A lot of virtual (and actual) ink has been used to write about Alexis Sanchez, by experts and non-experts. Among both groups opinions are divided, with the prevailing talking point being: "Why do you need a winger that can't score?".

So, let's start this at that very point. Alexis has never in his, albeit relatively short, career been regarded as a scorer. Never has that been his primary talent. In fact, Alexis' finishing has often been questioned even before he joined FC Barcelona. His career high in goals scored is a "measly" 15 tallies, achieved last season, in his first year with Barcelona. Prior to that his career high was 12, achieved the season before last. But think about it,15 goals is nothing to sneeze at, especially when you consider that goals from the right wing have been difficult to come by for Barça in recent years.

This season hasn't been very kind to Alexis, who has only scored five times so far. It wasn't for the lack of trying, though. The Chilean is often among the most dangerous players on the Blaugrana team. Pretty much the only problem in his game is his finishing. The fact that some of the best saves against Barcelona were made on Alexis also didn't help his confidence. I'm not trying to make excuses for him, because the simple truth is that Alexis should've scored more than he has.

But has Alexis' direct competitor for the starting right wing spot, Pedro, done any better? Only by a smidgen, yet somehow his struggles have eluded the wrath of fans. Pedro is a former 20+ goalscorer, but even though that he and Alexis have similar scoring records in the last season and a half only Alexis is getting ridiculed for his poor finishing.

Pedro is nearly a lifelong Barcelona player, joining Barcelona's youth ranks at the age of 17. So unlike Alexis, he is fully familiar with the Barcelona system, which makes his lack of form more puzzling. Alexis, meanwhile, is still a pupil of "tiki-taka". Right about now, quite a few of you were thinking: "But he's been with the team for a year and a half, how much time does he need?" And you're right, partially at least. Alexis has had ample time to adjust to Spain and the style of football played on the Iberian Peninsula, but are 20 months enough? Rare are footballers that have made a seamless transition to Barcelona in recent history. Alexis, obviously, isn't one of them. Alexis has never in his career seen anything remotely similar to Barça's football, despite playing professional football in three countries, so I'm positive he would appreciate more time to get into the Barça rhythm.

To make one last offensive comparison between Alexis and Pedro before I move on to Alexis' better attributes. Alexis is a very versatile player. He can play on both wings and can, if necessary, fill in at striker and even at false No. 9. Pedro, however, is "only" a winger, but like Alexis he too can play on both sides of the pitch.

Which made me think; does the fact that Alexis can play all those positions actually hurt him? While it is true that he featured mostly on either wing in his Barcelona career, he has been used at the point of the attack as well, especially in his first season in Catalonia. What I'm trying to say is, had Alexis been used only at his preferred position, the right wing, would he be in a better position than he is now? I personally think so. Why? Because he would be able to focus on one position and not try to impress on two, even three, at the same time.

The two wing positions, at first sight, don't appear to be very different, but they actually are. Not only is the pitch "the wrong way around" when you play on the other side, there are tactical differences between the wing positions also. If it were so easy to switch wings Pedro would be very good on both sides, but he's better on the right. Cristian Tello also prefers one wing to the other, the left, as does David Villa. The same is true for full backs, most of whom don't know how to play on the opposite side. Only a select few are really comfortable on both sides of the pitch, but those too prefer one to the other.

But enough with the negativity. Let's now take a look at areas where Alexis truly excels. First, he's constantly on the move. Take a look at any game tape and you'll very rarely see him standing still. He's always looking to get open and receive a pass. His movement also allows other players, Messi for example, more space. Very few players exist that can sustain such movement, with so many long sprints, over a full 90 minutes.

And secondly, Alexis is an excellent defender. In my opinion, he's actually one of the best wingers in the world when it comes to defending. He's a master at tracking back and pressuring the ball carrier. The fact that he's better at defending than Pedro is quite a statement, because Pedro is very good in that aspect of the game.

But why would a team even need a winger that's good at defending you ask? Well, because in a club like Barça, where both full backs have so many attacking responsibilities it's imperative that they get help from wingers. And like it or not, depending on you're stance on Alexis, Barcelona is a better team defensively when the Chilean is on the pitch.

Have you asked yourself, at any point this season, why so many goals were scored down Barcelona's left side? It's because Jordi Alba hasn't gotten nearly as much help defensively as Dani Alves has. And that's because we have seen mostly Andres Iniesta or Villa on the left wing, which is responsible for helping Alba. When Alexis has played there Alba wasn't exposed as much, and that is just one example of Alexis' important role in the offense.

Over the last roughly 1000 words I've gotten a lot off my chest regarding Alexis. But if I had to sum it all up in one sentence it would be: Alexis deserves to get one more season at FC Barcelona, and a chance to nail down a starting XI spot. All the hard work he's put in, combined with many injuries, especially in his first season, should not go unnoticed. And if Pedro is considered an automatic "keeper" for next season, Alexis should be too.

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