By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
The man for the big occasion. Alexis Sanchez struck to settle a complicated Catalan derby against Espanyol on Friday, having hit a wonderful winner in the Clasico against Real Madrid last weekend. Following two largely disappointing campaigns and some dreadful displays in the biggest games of all, suddenly the Chilean is Barca's go-to guy - just when they need him most.
So shy that he did not put himself forward to speak to the Catalan press until his second season at Camp Nou, Alexis took time to adapt to his new surroundings and at one point his team-mates wondered just how they would coax him out of his shell. Often, he would sit alone in the corner of the dressing room or on the training pitch. Lonely, lacking confidence and feeling insecure, the Chilean did not enjoy his first few months in Catalunya.
His debut campaign brought 15 goals from 41 games (including an important strike against Madrid), but Barca lost La Liga to their fiercest foes and the former Udinese man managed just 11 strikes in 46 appearances in his second season. Incredibly inconsistent and mentally fragile, Sanchez so often faded when it mattered most.
The winger was mocked by the Catalan press last season when he told the Chilean media that he was a "great player" ("soy un jugadorazo"). He had not proved it in Barcelona, fans and media agreed, but new coach Gerardo Martino refused to sanction a sale and told the press that he hoped to see the Sanchez who starred in the 2010 World Cup for Chile.
And sure enough, that player is now re-emerging.
Popular now | Sanchez celebrates with his Barcelona team-mates
'Tata' appears the ideal coach for Sanchez. Working with a fellow South American has helped Alexis as Martino has been able to motivate his player where both Pep Guardiola and Tito Vilanova struggled to get to grips with his mindset and unearth the gem waiting to be polished. Under the two Catalan coaches, Barca's system and passing philosophy also stifled Sanchez.
But Martino has made the team much more direct and Alexis has been the biggest benefactor. The Chilean's glorious goal lit up a subdued Clasico last weekend and his strike on Friday settled a difficult derby which had been heading for a goalless draw as Lionel Messi struggled to inspire his side.
With Messi misfiring, Neymar set up Sanchez with a ball which went through the legs of two Espanyol defenders and found the Chilean at the far post. Alexis is emerging from the shadows at Camp Nou and right now, he cannot put a foot wrong.
So instead of a chilling fright on Halloween, Barca fans went home hailing a Chilean night. It has taken some time, but Alexis isn't scared any more.
Follow Ben Hayward on