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English Premier League

Manchester United star Alexis Sanchez is ready to recapture Arsenal form, says legendary ex-Red Devil Denis Irwin

After a slow start with his new team, the Chilean is looking sharp and can spearhead United’s early-season charge

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 August, 2018, 5:15pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 August, 2018, 5:45pm

All eyes are on Manchester United’s Premier League season opener against Leicester on Friday after the club’s turbulent preseason and lack of transfer activity so far.

But legendary ex-Red Devil and now United brand ambassador Denis Irwin is more concerned with getting Chilean forward Alexis Sanchez to replicate his scintillating 60 goals in 122 games at Arsenal, with the 29-year-old yet to leave a real mark at Old Trafford since signing in January.

“Sanchez’s [goalscoring] record at Arsenal was one in two and we know he’s got the ability to do that,” said Irishman Irwin, who was in Hong Kong this week to promote United’s first ever shirt sleeve partnership with manufacturing company Kohler.

The League’s highest-paid player has scored just two in 12 Premier League games for United and looked a frustrated figure spearheading the team’s attacks last season.

Despite a relatively underwhelming team performance in North America over preseason, Sanchez looked sharp every time he featured, netting against Real Madrid and AC Milan.

“We need more goals, simple as that. He’s been a real plus [in preseason] mainly because he’s had a good break and I’m looking forward for him to score a lot of goals this season,” said Irwin, adding that Brazilian international Fred looks to be a good summer transfer.

“[The preseason after] the World Cup is always a bit strange because you don’t go with your full contingent – the results don’t matter. I’ve played plenty of preseasons where the results haven’t been great and we started the season very well, and vice versa.”

With Thursday night’s transfer deadline looming and many – including Sanchez – questioning manager Jose Mourinho’s lack of marquee signings, Irwin believes the squad is strong enough to tussle with local rivals and reigning league champions Manchester City.

The latest rumours are swirling around Stoke City’s 23-year-old centre-back Kurt Zouma, as well as the much-discussed Harry Maguire, Toby Alderweireld, Yerry Mina and Jerome Boateng.

“It looks like we’re after a centre-half but there’s not much time to get the deal over the line,” said Irwin. “I don’t know how that’s going to work; we had the second-best record defensively last season, just a goal behind City.

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“It’s not an area that you think we’d struggle in but if the manager feels he needs to strengthen some places, he’s the man and obviously he has a great history of winning trophies.”

Irwin, labelled Sir Alex Ferguson’s greatest pound-for-pound signing by the Scot himself, was often considered an “under-the-radar” back what with the likes of Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister and Peter Schmeichel sharing the defensive duties.

The 19-time major trophy winner drew comparisons to towering Serb Nemanja Matic, who looks set to miss the start of the new season through injury.

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“There’s always players that go under the radar – strikers will always hog the limelight and rightly so, they’re the ones under the most pressure,” Irwin said.

“I think Matic is a fellow who’s very important for us. Sometimes holding midfield players don’t get the credit they deserve, and I actually think he’s a better footballer than what most fans give him credit for as well. He’s very good on the ball and protects it very well.

“Of anybody he’s probably the most underrated player yet one of the most important players for Man United. It looks like he’ll be injured a while yet which is a shame because you want to hit the season running.”

Irwin will return to Old Trafford in time for the Leicester encounter but spent much of his time in Hong Kong reminiscing about previous preseason tours and the future of the team’s training complex in Carrington.

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“Kohler is doing some training facilities and bathrooms – there’s already a lot going on at Carrington and Old Trafford,” he revealed.

At the Hong Kong partnership event, Irwin talked to Hong Kong national team captain Yapp Hung-fai about local team South China – who ex-United teammate Nicky Butt had a brief stint at – because “they were the biggest side in my time”.