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Man United's pursuit of Alexis Sanchez driven by Ivan Perisic failure

Manchester United's pursuit of Alexis Sanchez is the latest part of a chase that started in the summer.

While Jose Mourinho has always been an admirer of the Chile international, most at Old Trafford believed he was destined for Manchester City during the summer transfer window.

Many of United's negotiating team, headed by executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, still believed that to be the case as recently as late last week.

Mourinho's relaxed grin in the Old Trafford news conference on Monday night, following a 3-0 win over Stoke, suggests things have now changed significantly.

It is disappointment that has led United down this path. With Sanchez seemingly moving to the Etihad Stadium in the summer, United focused their efforts on Ivan Perisic.

Mourinho made it clear during the tour of the United States that he wanted four signings ahead of the new season.

Romelu Lukaku, Nemanja Matic and Victor Lindelof arrived. But United refused to meet Inter Milan's asking price for Perisic and Mourinho was left with a squad he believed was still one short.

It has been a source of frustration for Mourinho -- along with Paul Pogba's absences through injury and suspension -- as he has watched City open up a sizeable lead at the top of the Premier League table in the first half of the season.

Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez is closed down by Manchester United's Victor Lindelof and Paul Pogba
Manchester United's interest in Alexis Sanchez goes back to the summer, when he looked bound for Man City.

Crucially, though, the failed attempt to land Perisic now looks to have worked in his favour. United made it clear to Mourinho the £40 million earmarked for the Croatia winger was still available.

The board, usually reluctant to do big business in January unless an "opportunity" arises, have been presented with just that. The chance to sign Sanchez for £35m when they were ready to spend more on Perisic was too good to turn down.

For those inside Old Trafford it is a considerable upgrade. Perisic, as good as he has been for Inter this season, has scored 27 goals in 100 games since 2015. Sanchez's numbers over the same period are 55 in 113.

The arrival of the former Barcelona forward -- who will wear the vacant No. 7 shirt if and when he signs -- would solve two issues for Mourinho.

The United boss has viewed the right side of his front three as a problem position since he arrived in 2016. Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford share the job on the left, but Mourinho doesn't have the same options on the right.

The other problem has been goals. United were overly reliant on Zlatan Ibrahimovic last season and it cost them a chance to challenge for the title. The Swede was impressive in his first season -- scoring 28 goals in 46 games -- but no one else got more than 11, and their 54 league goals last season was the lowest in the top seven.

That rate has improved this season and the three goals they scored against Stoke on Monday night took them to 48 for the campaign, third in the league behind Manchester City and Liverpool.

Romelu Lukaku's goal against Stoke was his 17th since joining Manchester United in the summer.

However, sources have told ESPN FC Mourinho still does not believe his team is clinical enough.

The three draws against Leicester City, Burnley and Southampton over Christmas were, apparently, the last straw.

Sanchez is not only a goal threat, he has proved he can do it in the Premier League -- an important point that has led Mourinho to sign Lukaku and Matic in the summer.

Sanchez's league record since swapping the Camp Nou for the Emirates in 2014 is 60 goals in 122 games. It is a fantastic return for a player who has not always played centrally.

It is hoped he can provide the goals to support Lukaku in the second half of the season with doubts over how big a role Ibrahimovic will be able to play between now and May. The 36-year-old has scored once in seven games since returning from a serious knee ligament injury and will be sidelined with another knee problem until at least the end of January.

All that is left for United to do is tie up the deal. Sources have told ESPN FC that they believe they have the financial muscle to hold off any late bid from Chelsea.

There are doubts about whether Chelsea can afford to shatter their wage structure at a time when they are also renegotiating terms with Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois, and Stamford Bridge boss Antonio Conte all but ruled out a move for Sanchez on Tuesday.

On Sanchez's side, sources have told ESPN FC he is keen to leave Arsenal this month and would be happy to move to Old Trafford.

There is a feeling in the 29-year-old's camp that his relationship with Pep Guardiola -- seen at one point as key to his proposed move to City -- has been overblown.

He only spent one season under Guardiola at Barcelona, making 25 starts. He only completed 90 minutes nine times.

Sanchez to United solves problems for both sides.

Sanchez gets his move away from Arsenal and Mourinho, finally, gets what he wants.

Rob is ESPN FC's Manchester United correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @RobDawsonESPN.


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