Henrikh Mkhitaryan scored another important goal for Manchester United last weekend when he broke the deadlock against Leicester in our 3-0 win. With Arsenal and Liverpool both losing, we had to win, and the Armenian played a crucial role in that.
Aside from his fantastic solo effort, he also provided the assist for Juan Mata’s goal minutes in to the second half, which killed off any hopes of a Leicester come back.
The rapturous travelling contingent sung Mkhitaryan’s song on repeat, clearly delighted with the impact the player was having, especially after moving in to a more central role behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Mkhitaryan has now started the last six games in a row, suggesting that Jose Mourinho is now content that he is has made the successful transition from the Bundesliga to the Premier League.
After a woeful 45 minutes against Manchester City earlier in the season, Mkhitaryan didn’t feature in any competition for two months. Despite our fans flooding social media with complaints every time the team was announced, Mourinho stuck to his guns and bided his time with the special player.
Supporters debated whether Mourinho was playing some sort of power game with the Armenian, showing who was boss, and letting the rest know that nobody was guaranteed a place in the team if they didn’t perform well enough.
With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that Mourinho had the best of intentions. “Sometimes the best way to protect a player is not to play them,” Mourinho claimed after the victory over Leicester.
For all the “football Einsteins” who were writing Mourinho off at the beginning of the season, maybe it’s too much to credit the manager with the turnaround in Mkhitaryan. But when you compare that atrocious display on derby day with his performance against Leicester, it’s clear that a huge change has taken place. He just wasn’t ready, but now he is, and the fans are delighted.
It’s not just that us that love him though, with Jamie Carragher singing his praises this week, claiming Mkhitaryan trumps all the other players in his position in the league. While the likes of Mata, Mesut Ozil and David Silva are all very skilful players, none of them have anything like the pace of Mkhitaryan.
While United’s football has largely been good to watch, the results, particularly in the league, haven’t matched them. We need to score more goals, that much is obvious, and an in-form Mkhitaryan could be the answer to Mourinho’s prayers.
The win over Leicester marked the player’s fifth Man of the Match award since forcing his way back in to Mourinho’s plans in November. If he can boast anything close to the number of goals and assists he accumulated last season for Borussia Dortmund, we could find ourselves in a great position.
If Mourinho opts to utilise the pace available to him in the squad, by playing the likes of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial either side of Mkhitaryan, all supporting Ibrahimovic, then it would take a skilled defence to keep up with them.
Mkhitaryan was welcomed back in from the cold and has thrived as a result. We will be hoping that the same can be achieved for Martial, who has seen his stock fall since showing himself as our best outfield player last season.
Last week, Mourinho confirmed that Mkhitaryan is ahead of Martial in pecking order but if the Armenian is used centrally from now on, the pair shouldn’t be in competition with each other.
The most popular chant for our fans at the moment claims “Jose’s playing the way that United should” which is largely true. We certainly look more like United than anything witnessed under David Moyes or Louis van Gaal. But if United are really going to revert to type, and play as we did during Sir Alex Ferguson’s best years, we need more pace in the team. While that certainly includes Mkhitaryan, it should also mean that Martial features too.