Manchester: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer believes Alexis Sanchez is on a mission to revitalise his career after backing the Manchester United forward to put a miserable past 12 months behind him and start the new year with a flourish. Sanchez is due to make his comeback from injury against Newcastle at St James’ Park on Wednesday night after more than a month out with a hamstring tear.
The Chile forward endured a torrid 2018 in the wake of his move from Arsenal last January, scoring just four goals in 30 appearances, and was seeking an exit route this month after growing increasingly disheartened under former manager Jose Mourinho at Old Trafford.
But United have thrown off the shackles to score 12 goals in three games under Solskjaer in the wake of Mourinho’s sacking and the interim manager is convinced his troubled star should feel liberated by the team’s new attacking ambitions.
“He’s a player who would benefit from the interchanging, the rotation, the movement,” Solskjaer said. “The more chances you create, the more times you get the ball into the final third. He’ll be an asset for us.
“He’s looking forward to it. It certainly looked like it on Saturday in training. He scored quite a few nice goals, so that was encouraging.”
Sanchez denied claims last month that he won a big bet with teammate Marcos Rojo over Mourinho’s sacking. But he made little attempt to hide his delight at the news when he posted a video to Instagram of him playing the theme tune from the film Gladiator — called “Now We Are Free” — as he drove into United’s Carrington training ground four days after the Portuguese’s dismissal.
Sources at Old Trafford have claimed they have not seen Sanchez this buoyant since the week he joined United. He had become an increasingly withdrawn and isolated figure in the final months under Mourinho, but club insiders have said he looks like a man with a point to prove.
Solskjaer believes Sanchez is “champing at the bit” to play again and has been impressed with the player’s work ethic. Sanchez was given Christmas Day off because he was not part of the match-day squad to face Huddersfield Town, but came in to train regardless and was practically begging Solskjaer to be included in the squad to face Bournemouth in Sunday’s 4-1 win.
“He’s had some great training sessions, he wanted to be here [against Bournemouth], but we have to manage him, he’s been out for a month,” Solskjaer said. “But he’ll be involved [against Newcastle], yes. He wants to play all the time. He’s not had enough fitness, but he’s champing at the bit.”
United have a slight doubt over Marcus Rashford after the striker was substituted against Bournemouth and Victor Lindelof and Phil Jones are their only two available centre-halves, with Eric Bailly suspended following his red card against Bournemouth and Chris Smalling and Marcos Rojo injured.
United’s hierarchy are hoping Solskjaer’s appointment can liberate Sanchez in the way it has done Paul Pogba. His brace on Sunday took his tally to four goals in two games and Jesse Lingard admits the France midfielder is unrecognisable from the player who was at loggerheads with Mourinho.
“I can definitely see the Paul I used to know,” said Lingard, who came through United’s academy with Pogba. “I have seen him playing through the ranks and he is back to the player we know.
“He’s enjoying his football. He’s playing in the role he likes to play in, just inside, off the left. He has the freedom to make things happen. He has always got forward in that position and scored goals.
“Ole has helped him. He has given him the confidence and licence to be free and play his game. Ole is great one on one with players — great man management.”
Solskjaer admits it has taken him no time to settle in — seven years after leaving to pursue a career in management.
“I don’t know about being at ‘home at this level’, but I’m at home at this club,” Solskjaer said when asked if he felt comfortable managing at the top.
“I’ve spent 15 years here. I’m comfortable in the environment. It’s up to you to rate me if I’m up to the level, but I’m definitely enjoying my time back home.”
On the continuing input of former manager Sir Alex Ferguson behind the scenes, Solskjaer added: “I keep him informed. He paid us a visit [on Saturday]. He enjoyed his time at the training ground. We had a nice few chats — us and the staff — and he encouraged us.”
Bournemouth v Watford, 11.45pm
Chelsea v Southampton, 11.45pm
Huddersfield v Burnley, 11.45pm
West Ham v Brighton, 11.45pm
Wolves v Crystal Palace, 11.45pm
Newcastle v Manchester United, midnight
Manchester City v Liverpool, midnight