The very fact that Barcelona committed €37.5 million (£32.9m) to his purchase this summer is proof enough that Alexis Sanchez was one of the best players in the world last season. His lightning pace, fearless running and increased confidence in front of goal helped lead Udinese into the promised land of the Champions League, and also ensured that they picked up countless new fans along the way.
The Chilean was one of many Udinese players who struggled to hit the ground running as the side lost their opening four games. He even found himself demoted to the bench for three consecutive fixtures as Francesco Guidolin looked for the right formula to get his side back on track. Sanchez was soon back in the starting XI though, and was regularly one of the better performers as the club dragged their way back up the Serie A table.
|"I have known [Sanchez] for some time, he is a great player and he would be a great signing for us because he would add a lot to our team."
- Lionel Messi
As the speedy forward’s influence began to grow, Udinese made their way into the top eight as the turn of the year approached, although he’d only chalked up one goal going into the clash with Lazio in the final round before the Christmas break. Suddenly Sanchez’s excellent form began turning into goals. After netting in the 3-2 defeat at the Olimpico, his goals would add to his fearless running at the heart of opposition defences in catapulting Udinese towards their dream top four spot.
|MOMENT OF THE SEASON
PALERMO 0-7 UDINESE
|A four-goal haul, including a double-stepover and rounding of the keeper, led Udinese to the biggest win of the Serie A season. He was even replaced after 52 minutes in order to go easy on the home side!
Further goals in the opening three games of 2011 against Chievo, AC Milan and Genoa stated his intention to have a big effect on the run-in, and also attracted serious attention from elsewhere. It was during that 4-2 win in Genoa that Barcelona were first spotted watching Sanchez by Goal.com, and the Chilean rarely looked back.
He scored the winner in a keenly fought encounter away to Juventus in which he later received his marching orders, but was back from suspension the following week to net against Sampdoria at the Stadio Friuli. With his electric pace now proving a key feature of Udinese’s attacking play, there was a belief around Italy that someone would soon pay big-time, and that Sanchez would be at the heart of it.
Palermo proved the unfortunate victims of Udinese's most incisive performance of the campaign, and again Sanchez was the man right at the heart of the carnage. Four goals in the opening 49 minutes from the Chilean helped put the visitors in a position which allowed them to take their foot off the pedal, evening replacing their No.7 moments after he bagged his final goal. His double-stepover before rounding Salvatore Sirigu for his second was a particular highlight.
After scoring again in the next away game – another thumping win, 4-0 over Cagliari – Sanchez failed to find the net again as he struggled with injury, but he was back to play his part in the run-in, chalking up an assist in the vital victory over Lazio before helping hold champions AC Milan on the final day to reach the Champions League.
|"With his electric pace now proving a key feature of Udinese's magnificent attacking play, there was a belief around Italy that someone would pay big-time, and that Sanchez would be at the heart of it."|
By the time he travelled to Argentina with his national side for the Copa America, it was an open secret that a deal was being constructed for him to move to Barcelona. Sanchez managed to put the rumours to one side though, scoring a vital equaliser against eventual winners Uruguay as Chile reached the quarter-finals with an unbeaten group record before crashing out in the last eight to Venezuela.
As expected, when he returned to Europe it was to sign for the European champions, a just reward for a magnificent 12 months which also sees him rated the 2010-11 season's seventh best player in the world in the Goal.com 50.