We need to talk about Mkhi – he needs to recreate early season form, and fast
Mkhitaryan looked unstoppable early on
After a difficult first season in the Premier League, it seemed that Henrikh Mkhitaryan had stepped up his game to become the orchestrator-in-chief Manchester United fans had been longing for as he effervescently helped United begin the season in blistering form.
The naysayers were forced to eat their words as the Armenia international laid on four assists in his first two games of the new campaign, having created just one goal all season in 2016/17.
However, all has since turned sour, with the confidence palpably draining out of the 28-year-old. His performances have gone from dazzling to disappearing in the space of a month, and with Manchester City sweeping aside all who stand in their way, United need Mkhitaryan to find his touch once more with some big games coming up.
It has been quite the rapid fall from grace. Before the end of August, Mkhitayan could lay claim to five assists, and soon had his first goal of the season, in another convincing United victory over Everton in September – the Armenian had fans feeling they were onto something good and he was revelling in being such an integral part of the United juggernaut.
“I can say last season I started not good as I had lots of injuries and I didn’t feel good playing games,” Mkhitaryan said in late September. “But this season is different because I started playing well and the connection and understanding with other players, especially [Romelu] Lukaku, is great and I hope we can score many goals in the coming games.”
“I know there is no limit to the work I can do and I just want to provide as many assists and goals as I can.”
Form disappeared in blink of an eye
A day later, and Mkhitaryan was on the scoresheet as United put four past CSKA Moscow, away from home. Surely there was no stopping this creative linchpin in Jose Mourinho’s well-oiled unit?
Yet, the wheels came off in another resounding United victory, with Mkhitaryan a bystander in the 4-0 victory over Palace. United went more direct, with Marouane Fellaini in the scoresheet with a brace, capitalising on Mourinho choosing crossing into the box as his weapon of choice.
No big deal, one ineffective performance, right? Well the cracks in Mkhitaryan’s game widened in the international break. A proud skipper of his national side, the 6-1 hammering at the hands of Poland hit Armenia’s captain hard.
“It was a shameful defeat,” Mkhitaryan said after the loss in Yerevan. “I am the captain of the team, and I undertake all responsibility for defeat from Poland.”
While the defensive set-up deployed by Mourinho at Liverpool last weekend won’t have helped matters, Mkhitaryan put in such an ineffective display at Anfield that he may as well have not been there. He finished the match having made just 29 touches, he lost possession 14 times and completed one key pass on Merseyside, but worse was still to come.
Lisbon Mkhitaryan’s nadir
Much of the reaction on social media was one of dismay as Mkhitaryan’s name appeared on the team sheet in Lisbon ahead of Wednesday’s clash with Benfica. Fans couldn’t believe that Mkhitaryan had kept his place in the side, having been so disappointing for several games in a row. He needed to prove them wrong. 90 minutes later, and fans’ trepidation was proven to be justified.
“The play wasn’t good enough,” former United midfielder Paul Scholes said in the aftermath of an uninspiring 1-0 win for United. “Mkhitaryan wasn’t good enough but they got the points and moved forward, that is important.”
To single out one player, after a win, tells its own story, There is a real worry among fans that last season wasn’t the outlier in Mkhitaryan’s career, more that he is in fact not quite as well-suited to the Premier League as many first thought.
Of course, there is more than enough time for Mkhitaryan to once again prove the doubters wrong, but with Tottenham and Chelsea to come after a trip to Huddersfield this weekend, the spotlight is on the Armenian to start to find those telling through passes that the likes of Romelu Lukaku thrive upon.
Mourinho isn’t known for his patience. Time to deliver at an age when an omission from the side could cause lasting damage.