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Sanchez start at United was below-par but fans can trust Mourinho's dynamo

Sanchez start at United was below-par but fans can trust Mourinho's dynamo


Liverpool will look forward to bumper sales of their traditional end-of-season DVD review. Like last summer's release it will feature lots of goals and wins -- just what supporters love -- which indicates two good seasons in a row, something not experienced since 2009.

A cursory examination of both campaigns sees certain similarities, such as how exciting Jurgen Klopp's team can be and occasionally infuriating too.

One difference will be how goals were shared around. During season 2016-17 Liverpool's main attacking trio were Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane. Together they scored 39 of Liverpool's 92 goals, amounting to 42 percent.

Having added Mohamed Salah to their attacking arsenal, and still including Coutinho, four players scored 102 of Liverpool's 134 goals this time around -- a huge hike to 76 percent.

Incredibly, just 32 goals have been scored by the rest of Liverpool's squad this season compared to 53, last time out.

There are reasons for this. Both Salah and Firmino were virtually ever-present. While Mane missed some earlier games through injury and suspension, he also featured in most matches.

Last season Klopp had to dip into his squad more. Players like Divock Origi and Daniel Sturridge were called upon to share attacking duties. This year they've been out on loan. For the whole season at Wolfsburg in Origi's case, for half a season with West Brom in Sturridge's -- for all the good it did him or them.

A big frustration for Klopp was a season of injuries for Adam Lallana, who made a telling contribution last time and emerged as the manager's favourite. The famous Klopp hug seemed more heartfelt for the England man than for anybody else.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had tried to fix this gap in Liverpool's midfield, made worse by Coutinho's sale to Barcelona. Having struggled for months with very little game time, the former Arsenal man dug in and contrived to become a fixture in the team before a cruel injury forced him to miss the end of this season and probably a fair bit of the next one. By the beginning of season 2018-19, Liverpool could well be missing the contributions of six players that have helped them to fourth place two years running.

Coutinho is probably the most important loss. Klopp managed to keep Liverpool in the top four while also reaching the Champions League final but that's been done despite losing Coutinho and not because of it.

His creativity and long-distance shooting -- from free kicks or normal play -- haven't been replaced fully, with Liverpool depending largely upon the general improvement in Firmino's game and the extraordinary finishing of Salah.

From the summer of 2016 to the summer of 2018 Liverpool will have had big changes in personnel. It remains to be seen whether these are damaging in any way.

The increase in percentage of goals their forwards score isn't in itself worrying -- most teams have a high fraction for their best players. But it's somewhat ironic Liverpool won their last game against Brighton 4-0 with three goals from unusual sources: Dejan Lovren, Dominic Solanke and Andrew Robertson.

There is something to be said however for the claim that such a massive goal contribution from Salah cannot be relied upon next time around.

Klopp may prefer to see a more even spread of goals, but how he goes about getting it will be interesting. The hardest thing in football is to try and fix something that on the surface isn't really broken.

Liverpool will want better attacking strength from the bench than they've been getting from Solanke and Danny Ings, whether from the returning Origi and Sturridge or new recruits.

Qualifying for the Champions League again means Klopp has plenty of chances to offer his second-string players. They must see it as an opportunity to impress and to be part of something much bigger than themselves. Many could get regular football elsewhere, but to what end?

Already there are stories about Rhian Brewster wanting first-team opportunities. If there is genuine belief in the Under-18 World Cup star making the grade, his progress has to be constructively managed and encouraged.

It is not Klopp's job however to mollycoddle youngsters. His own position is on the line with virtually every match. In a results-driven business experimentation simply isn't feasible, but there needs to be balance between using present and future stars.

He can point to Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson as classic examples of younger squad players biding their time and reaping the benefits. Their reward will be a starting place in Europe's biggest showcase on May 26. That has to be the bait, for youngsters and experienced squad players alike.

Steven Kelly is one of ESPN FC's Liverpool bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @SteKelly198586.

When football historians look back over this season in years to come, it will be interesting to see how important they view the signing of Alexis Sanchez to Manchester United's ambitions.

It is striking to think that there were many who were concerned by the Chilean forward's transfer from Arsenal -- this writer included -- and some who did not see the need for it altogether. Sanchez, it was feared, would rapidly reduce the playing time of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford at a key stage of their development -- a fear which turns out to have been justified.

Yet, in this era of warp-speed news cycles, it's easy to forget just how sensational his switch to United actually was. He had been courted for months by Pep Guardiola, but had also long been the subject of a private and protracted approach from Old Trafford. And so, in one of Ed Woodward's finest moves yet -- a phrase which two years ago would have been difficult to imagine, given Woodward's initial failures in the transfer market -- Sanchez found himself in red instead of blue.

Sanchez was set to join a City squad already creaking under the weight of its firepower -- he would have found himself among the ranks of one of the most devastating attacks the top flight has seen, alongside Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Kevin de Bruyne, Gabriel Jesus, Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva.

Perhaps he looked at that cast and did not believe he would be a regular choice, despite Guardiola's presumed arguments to the contrary. What is for sure, though, is that United's need for him was far greater than that of their local rivals.

Sanchez, like Romelu Lukaku and Jesse Lingard -- no coincidence that they are seemingly Jose Mourinho's first-choice front three -- is someone who can still thrive in a largely unstructured attack. His first few games, though, raised minor alarm. For the most part, despite his considerable efforts, he was far below par -- his passing and his shooting were equally wayward, and he had little understanding of the movement that his team-mates were making around him. Given the vast salary Sanchez commanded, he was expected to settle at once -- but it would have been unrealistic for him to do so.

In recent months, he has looked much more like the player Mourinho and Woodward relentlessly and successfully pursued. Most notable have been his showings in United's "big" matches, most particularly the 3-2 derby win over Manchester City. In this fixture, he played a leading role in United's comeback from two goals down, and provided an exciting glimpse of the team's future. He thrived amid chaos, sending in the free-kick that Chris Smalling steered home for a remarkable winner, and when making decisions in the final third he was the very soul of focus. His runs, so often mistimed before that day, were perfectly in sync with his fellow forwards.

Though Sanchez's understanding with Lingard has only just begun to thrive, it has been striking to see how frequently he and the England international find each other in space -- in a couple of respects they have similar approaches, unafraid to shoot from distance and very keen to play one-touch football at speed. That economy with the ball and diligence without it seem to be key to Mourinho's attacking approach, a welcome change from the pedestrian football that has often drawn frustration from United supporters.

Mourinho will call for patience, given that his side finished second in the table and have reached the FA Cup final, and that Sanchez is still finding his feet -- he ended up with two goals in 12 matches, and three goals in 17 appearances in all competitions.

Much seems set to come from him, and not too soon -- City outscored United this season by 106 goals to 68, a difference of 38. Chile's loss, though, is United's gain -- since their inability to qualify for next month's World Cup in Russia means that Sanchez, for the first time in years, will have a full summer off. That's no small matter, given that the last few seasons have seen him competing furiously at international level, in the process claiming two Copa America titles at the expense of Lionel Messi's Argentina.

United have some way to go to catch City, but the addition of Sanchez -- an almost unrivalled force of dynamism -- may just be the first step in the fightback. If so, the January transfer window of 2017-18 will be regarded as one of uncommon drama, and where the most thrilling of gambles handsomely paid off.

Musa Okwonga is one of ESPN FC's Manchester United bloggers. Follow on Twitter: @Okwonga.