Sanchez renaissance offers Man Utd hope of selling Inter loanee

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He may not be quite back to his scintillating best as of yet but, to paraphrase Mark Twain, the rumours of Alexis Sanchez's demise have been greatly exaggerated.

The Chile international is playing a vital role for an uneven Inter side, guiding Antonio Conte's men to a guaranteed top-four finish when it seemed his career at the top was stagnating.

The outlook certainly looked bleak for Sanchez as recently as two months ago, when Serie A resumed following the coronavirus lockdown.

He has thrived in difficult circumstances even as the Nerazzurri have kept alive their uncanny, almost infuriating talent for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Having opted for a loan move to San Siro for a fresh start after his woes at Manchester United, Sanchez found little joy even under Conte, a long-time admirer of the Chile forward's undeniable ability.

A single goal all the way back in September against Sampdoria and two assists were his sole contributions to Inter's efforts when the season halted in March, while the ex-Chelsea boss had entrusted him with just two Serie A starts in the first three months of 2020.

With Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez leading the way up front there appeared little prospect of Sanchez making his presence felt, and few other suitors on the horizon should the Nerazzurri follow United in writing him off.

But there is a reason the forward has long been considered among the game's elite, and he has demonstrated as much over the last few weeks in a remarkable rebirth.

To date, Inter have scored 26 goals between Serie A and the Coppa Italia since the 2019-20 campaign resumed, and no fewer than nine of those have had Sanchez at their heart, with the ex-Arsenal star contributing two strikes and seven assists.

That run of form has led Conte to give him a progressively more important role in the team, and he went within a whisker of notching again on Wednesday when his effort rattled Fiorentina goalkeeper Pietro Terraccino's right-hand post.

The hosts were held 0-0 on a familiarly frustrating evening, but their prime objective, qualifying for the Champions League, is already secured presuming both Napoli and Roma do not end the campaign with European trophies; and despite flirting with a title challenge against Juventus earlier in the season, a place in the top four will likely leave Inter largely happy with a job completed to satisfaction.

The story might have been a different one, though, were it not for Sanchez, who came through with match-winning performances to down Brescia, Torino and SPAL, and in doing so made Inter's task altogether more comfortable.

Alexis Sánchez - Fiorentina

Sanchez's recent joys have been in stark contrast – and indeed largely thanks to – the frustrations suffered by Lautaro.

The Argentina forward went into the coronavirus interruption in sparkling form, with a move to Barcelona seemingly inevitable due to his exploits with Inter alongside Lukaku.

But Lautaro has seen the goals dry up in recent weeks, netting just twice since June and missing a crucial penalty against Bologna in a game his side went on to lose.

Whether his rotten run is just a case of a young forward trying too hard – after all, the ex-Racing Club star only celebrates his 23rd birthday in August – or whether his head was turned by the incessant Barca interest, Lautaro's downturn gave his South American colleague the opportunity to shine, a chance Sanchez has grabbed with both hands.

“We signed Alexis because of his quality. Sadly we lost him as an option for a long time,” Conte told reporters following the Chilean's star turn against Brescia at the start of July. “Now he is starting to look good, even if he is still not the Sanchez I liked so much in England.

“I can say that he is on the right track.”

Alexis PS

Having laboured for so long to recover his best form, it is safe to say that both Sanchez and Inter will be taking this welcome run of goals and assists one step at a time.

The club's first priority is to extend the forward's contract for the duration of their Europa League run, with Getafe looming in the last 16 on August 5 at Schalke's Gelsenkirchen home.

From there, and even if Inter retain Lautaro's services for 2020-21, all indications suggest that the Italians will look to retain Sanchez, with director Giuseppe Marotta expressing the club's satisfaction at his recent performances and revealing he is planning talks with United.

That move might take the form of an extension on the player's loan or even, as Goal revealed in July, a permanent, cut-price €20 million (£18m/$22m) purchase that, with United desperate to off-load Sanchez's hefty wages, would not be unwelcome around the halls of power at Old Trafford even if it represents a huge loss on their original outlay in January 2018.

As Conte admitted, the 31-year-old has not yet reached his mercurial best at San Siro; but he has proven that given playing time and confidence he still has the quality to make the difference and win games at the top level.