Sanchez a runaway success story

Sanchez a runaway success story
Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez (C) celebrates after scoring a goal against Burnley during their English Premier League soccer match at the Emirates Stadium in London November 1, 2014.

Aguero is superb too but City striker lacks the tremendous work rate of the Gunner.

Most people, though probably not England's manager Roy Hodgson, might agree that three players have stood head and shoulders above the rest during the first half of this Premier League season.

Eden Hazard has been hypnotic for Chelsea. The other two, Sergio Aguero and Alexis Sanchez, line up as opponents for Manchester City against Arsenal at the Etihad stadium this evening.

We might argue all day long as to whether Sanchez or Aguero would be first pick in our line-up.

It is Hobson's, rather than Hodgson's choice.

Aguero with his Latin guile, his low centre of gravity and his ability to find shadows to lurk in before seeming to glide free of two or three markers and slip the ball into the net, has again been fabulous for City.

Sanchez, with his Latin guile, puts in the work rate of the English.

He runs a marathon a week for Arsenal and has scored 12 goals, just two fewer than Aguero. But he has contributed seven assists compared to three from Aguero.

You think I am prevaricating, running shy of choosing between the two?

Absolutely correct.

Aguero thrills me because of the element of the unexpected. He appears at times to detach himself from the team effort of City and then, just when we (and, more importantly, the players supposedly marking him) have forgotten he is there, the Argentinian pounces. As often as not, a shrewd pass along the ground by David Silva picks Aguero out. Or rather picks out a gap into which Aguero is intuitively moving into.

It is as sweet, seemingly as natural, as the snow we now have in England falling off a leaf.

None of it is made in England which might possibly explain Hodgson's odd selection in the Ballon d'Or poll last week.

Javier Mascherano, Philipp Lahm and Manuel Neuer were his one, two, three.

Defender, defender, goalkeeper.

It maybe tells us more about the England manager than the real virtue of a global game that, most people got right, is transcended year in, year out by Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

Yes, there is virtue in defending.

Yes, Mascherano at times held Argentina together with his tenacity and tackling. Lahm is among the most adaptable players in the sport and a leader by example.

And, we can agree, Neuer is more than just a goalie because of the way he sweeps up beyond his goal area.

But why would Hodgson think them the three outstanding individual players on earth in 2014?

One reason is possibly that he was concentrated on the World Cup, and lost in admiration for those who went much further in the tournament than his team could.

Another, perhaps, is that Mascherano, Lahm and Neuer do not figure in the league Hodgson is duty bound to watch every week.

However, the Premier League is populated by far more foreigners than Englishmen. Typically, City and Arsenal will field, at most, four home players tonight.

There's Joe Hart in goal for City and possibly James Milner on the left of midfield. And there might be another appearance from Frank Lampard, either as a starter because Yaya Toure is on African Nations Cup duty or off the bench.

Arsenal will doubtless start with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and have Theo Walcott as a sub.

That's it. The English have become tokens in their own league and admiring overseas talents is the reality of the Premier League. We shouldn't complain.

We should admire.

By the way, only one player currently in the EPL made the Fifa World Xl last week. Hodgson overlooked him as well, possibly because most of what Angel di Maria did in 2014 was either for Real Madrid or for his country, Argentina.

He didn't join Manchester United until the summer trading window, and when he has been fit and on his best game, he has looked another thrilling addition to the foreign legion in the EPL.

Which brings us back to the Sanchez-Aguero comparison.

We have heard City manager Manuel Pellegrini say often enough that he places his striker Aguero among the top five players on earth.

Pellegrini is from Chile and, inevitably, there were stories last summer that he would have pursued Sanchez, his countryman, if City's hands were not tied by the Uefa Financial Fair Play ruling that City had exceeded their spending limit.

In the build-up to today's encounter at the Etihad, Pellegrini has been profuse in praising Sanchez.

Not the least of those attributes is that he has done in England just what he did in Spain for Barcelona, and before that in Italy with Udinese - he hits the ground running.

I mean that literally because when have you ever seen a more tigerish runner, a greater hunger to chase down the ball and then turn it goalwards?

Luis Suarez? Okay, I grant you that one, especially the desire he displayed for Liverpool last season.

Now, of course, he has gone, replacing Sanchez at Barcelona.

What goes around, comes around in the moneyed circle of top European football.

But we are moving closer now to what separates the two players who have lifted City and Arsenal this season. While Aguero is blessed with some of the scoring instincts of Diego Maradona (who at one time was his father-in-law), he doesn't possess the same extraordinary engine that Sanchez seems to have.

Sánchez runs like an Englishman (in fact like Milner), yet he has the vision, the touch and the eye to turn half-chances into goals. So now you are pushing me to choose one or the other? In that case, I go with Sanchez. I think Aguero is the cuter scorer (and served by the magician Silva) but he is injured more often than Sanchez allows himself to be.

That said, I hope they both score today. Last year, the score in this game was City 6, Arsenal 3, and it brings a smile to the face of Pellegrini when he says: "I hope this time we score the same amount and Arsenal have more problems to score the same."

stsports@sph.com.sg

Red-hot Chilean

Sanchez runs like an Englishman, yet he has the vision, the touch and the eye to turn half-chances into goals. Aguero is the cuter scorer... but he is injured more often than Sanchez allows himself to be.


This article was first published on Jan 18, 2015.
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