No sooner had Alexis Sanchez finally set foot in America than Manchester United’s lone star found himself thrust into Jose Mourinho’s plans for the second game on tour.
Sanchez has been training on his own at Carrington this week since a visa problem prevented him from flying with the rest of the United squad to California last weekend.
The 29-year-old touched down in Los Angeles on Friday where United have been training at UCLA and staying in Beverly Hills.
However, if Sanchez thought he might be given some time to acclimatise and shake off any jet lag, Mourinho confirmed that he is ready to throw the player straight into action against San Jose Earthquakes in Santa Clara on Sunday after just one training session.
With Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford resting after reaching the World Cup semi-finals and likely to miss the start of the Premier League season, Mourinho needs Sanchez to lead the attack.
Anthony Martial started up front in the opening tour game against Club America in Phoenix, which ended in a 1-1 draw in front of a disappointing crowd of 37,766.
Juan Mata, who scored United’s late equaliser, and 16-year-old debutant Mason Greenwood also played there after Martial went off, highlighting the lack of options available to Mourinho.
No wonder the United manager feels he has little choice but to play Sanchez at some point against San Jose at another NFL venue, the Levi’s Stadium.
‘It is not about when he can play, but when he has to,’ said Mourinho, ‘We have no players, especially in attack. Today was Martial and when Martial left the pitch it was Mata. When Mata went to the sides, it was a kid who has trained with us for the first time in this pre-season.
‘No Lukaku, no Rashford, not here and probably not for the start of the Premier League.
‘So when Alexis lands he has to play because he trained with us five days before we departed for LA and we left one fitness coach behind with him.
‘If he’s coming, he has to play.’
Sanchez is the first of the reinforcements to help strengthen a depleted United squad in America. David de Gea, Nemanja Matic and new £52million signing Fred are due out next week to sprinkle a little more stardust on proceedings.
It will be De Gea’s first appearance since a disappointing World Cup with Spain in which he saved just one of 11 shots on target.
However, his Spanish compatriot and United team-mate Ander Herrera backed De Gea to prove his critics wrong – just as he did after a difficult start at Old Trafford in 2011.
‘He is so strong,’ said Herrera. ‘I remember when I was in Spain and he signed for United, the first couple of months were hard for him. He became the best goalkeeper in the world in the next four years, and he will show it again.
‘I don’t care what the critics say. When you are the best and you don’t make those amazing saves, everyone is going to talk. He will cope with it.’
Herrera has no doubt that United fans who continued to support De Gea when his move to Real Madrid collapsed in 2015 will do so again.
He added: ‘They have already shown that to him and he knows he’s going to get them back.
‘I remember that difficult summer when everyone was talking about Real Madrid and he played the first game at Old Trafford. Everyone was singing his name and he told me, “this is amazing, they are the best”.
‘He’s the best keeper I’ve ever seen in my life. He is with us so we have more chances to win titles.’