Alexis Sanchez, mouth agape and sliding on his knees towards the corner flag is a sight Premier League fans are well used to by now. And yet when the Chilean set off on his trademark celebration 20 minutes into Manchester United’s routine 2-0 win over Swansea it felt like the moment he had truly arrived at Old Trafford.
Since signing from Arsenal in January, Alexis has struggled for consistency - albeit in a team that has rarely played to his strengths. His only previous goal came after Huddersfield goalkeeper Jonas Lossl parried a weak penalty back into his path. So patchy was his form he was benched for the FA Cup tie against Brighton prior to the international break.
But having been reintroduced to the starting XI and deployed on the left-hand side of an attacking trio behind central striker Romelu Lukaku he began to thrive, drifting inside to lay on the opening goal for the Belgian forward, who netted for the 100th time in the Premier League via Alfie Mawson’s knee.
Quarter of an hour later it was Alexis himself on the scoresheet, latching onto Jesse Lingard’s through-ball to slot into the bottom corner without breaking stride. It was noticeable how United’s players were quick to acknowledge Paul Pogba’s part in the goal – a routine tackle at the heart of midfield – but in truth the goal was all about Alexis and his trusty sidekick, Lingard.
Jose Mourinho this week refuted claims he would need to buy a striker during the summer transfer window given the wealth of attacking talent available to him - even after Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s departure to LA Galaxy - a point that was hammered home in a much more fluid attacking performance than United fans have been used to in recent months.
Alexis seemed far more at home on the left than he has done when part of a 4-3-3, and with Lingard and Juan Mata willing to drop deeper to do his defensive work for him he maintained his energy levels despite another international break when he played both matches for Chile.
Quite what that means for Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial is a conundrum Mourinho needs to solve. Both precocious youngsters have been described as undroppable at times this term, and yet if United have finally found an attacking quartet that they can rely on their opportunities are likely to remain limited.
Behind Alexis, all eyes were expected to be on Pogba as he too returned from both the literal and metaphorical cold that gripped the Theatre of Dreams during the Brighton clash.
Sitting deep alongside Nemanja Matic, there was a clear show of support for Pogba from his team-mates on Saturday. They pointed their fingers at him to acknowledge his challenge in the build-up to Alexis’ goal, demonstrating the love everyone has for the Frenchman following the recent soap opera surrounding Mourinho’s treatment of him.
In truth, though, Pogba was largely quiet again, but he should really have ended the afternoon with an assist as both Mata and Lukaku failed to convert the midfielder’s floated crosses from close-range. ‘Industrious’ is not a word usually related with Pogba, but with the likes of Alexis firing ahead of him he may have to learn to settle for a supporting role for the remainder of the campaign.
Alexis’s afternoon ended after 75 minutes, replaced by Rashford with the job done. Mourinho’s pride at beating Pep Guardiola to the Chilean’s signature will only be justified if he can coax more match-winning performances out of his new asset. After an ugly start, the signs are finally there that Alexis is beginning to blossom into a swan.