Francesco Guidolin started the season deploying Udinese in a 3-4-3 with Alexis Sanchez on the right wing providing attacking support for one of Antonio Di Natale and Antonio Floro Flores, with the other based out on the left. However, after a poor start to the campaign culminating in the 4-0 home reverse to Juventus, Guidolin dropped Sanchez to the bench along with the formation.
Playing just 95 minutes across the three games after the Juve humiliation, the international break in early October saw numerous reports linking Sanchez with a switch abroad – fuelled by the player refusing to rule them out.
Guidolin declined comment on the speculation, instead telling the player to concentrate on footballing matters such as improving his overall workrate through games and improving the effectiveness of his attacking play, both in terms of using possession and off-the-ball running.
During the international break, the club played a behind-closed-doors friendly with Slovenian side FC Koper and Guidolin involved Sanchez in his experiments, ones that saw the evolution of the 3-4-1-2 as the side's first-choice formation.
Tested against Sampdoria in Week 5, Guidolin has predominantly since stuck with it, with a 3-5-2 alternative in reserve for in-game adjustments, or to counter sides that threaten on the break or from wide.
Guidolin restored Sanchez for the Week 7 win at Brescia and has since selected him regularly placed in the trequartista role Almen Abdi, Pablo Armero and Giampiero Pinzi had all previously featured in to little effect this term.
Whilst Sanchez' strengths may be best suited to a wide role where the space and one-on-one situations encourage his pace and dribbling, the central creative role has brought out his best performances in a Bianconero shirt in arguably a year.
He has significantly improved the fortunes of the team's overall attacking statistics – whilst the side's average shots per game has only increased from 15 to 15.5, the average goals per game has gone from 0.5 to 1.4 whilst Di Natale has netted four of his five goals since the switch.
Performances against Bari and Lecce stand out – Sanchez providing a goal and two assists across games that saw the Chilean central to Udinese's attacks, providing raking passes down the pitch for Di Natale and supporting runners to latch on to.
Although not a fantasista, the No 7 is using his ability in the classic No 10 role to run at defenders and draw them away from teammates before attempting to release balls into space as it opens up.
The decision to switch the team's focus from Di Natale to Sanchez drew criticism and surprise in equal measures, but such has been the side's recovery under it, Guidolin deserves the credit for focusing a young star the Friuliani feared they would never see the best of.
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