When Henrikh Mkhitaryan signed for Manchester United back in July from Borussia Dortmund, it generated a great wave of excitement among the United fan base. Of course, it was eventually overshadowed by the record-breaking return of Paul Pogba, and arguably didn’t make the same impact as the earlier signing of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, this was still a big statement from United. Here was a player who played in one of the toughest leagues against one of the best club teams in Europe, and ended the previous season with 23 goals in 32 assists in all competitions. Mkhitaryan himself seemed up to the challenge too, as he said during United’s pre-season tour:
“I never promise something, I always say that I will try. Because if you promise something and you don’t do you will always be under pressure, so that is why I’m trying to say I will do all my best and I will try to help Manchester because for me this is a new challenge and I like difficulties. I like to win the difficulties because when you win the difficulties it makes you stronger, so I’m trying to do everything to come up to a new level.”
It looked so perfectly set then. One of the league’s most exciting arrivals playing under one of the best managers in world football in the newly appointed Jose Mourinho. After a troublesome pre-season, United head to Wembley for the Community Shield match against Leicester City, where many fans were looking forward to Mkhitaryan’s first competitive appearance. Those fans did technically get what they were looking for, but only one minute of it.
That became a bit of a time for Mkhitaryan for the next couple of games. In United’s first two league games, against Bournemouth and Southampton, Mkhitaryan was left on the bench, coming on only for the last 15 minutes. He caught a bit of a break in the next game, against Hull City, coming on for 30 minutes with United still chasing a win and got his first real chance to make a mark, and he did, as his substitution helped change the game for United who walked away with a win.
But just as things started to look up for him, things went south again. Mkhitaryan picked up an injury during the international break that followed the Hull game, ahead of the upcoming Manchester derby. Nevertheless, he got his first United start in that game, and very quickly it became evident that it was too early for him. He looked completely off the pace and lost the ball more than anyone else on the pitch, and was taken off at half-time. His injury returned, and he hasn’t played a game since.
At the moment, Mkhitaryan is facing a similar situation which he faced last month. He’s just recovered from his injury after sitting out the recent international break, and United are playing a big rival, this time, Liverpool. He has returned to full training and Mourinho has confirmed that he is available for selection for that game. Now, Mourinho would now completely understand the risk of playing him too early, but that’s not Mkhitaryan’s biggest problem at the moment.
With him sidelined, other attacking players had made their marks. Jesse Lingard has shown promise with the intelligence in his movement, and while his finishing hasn’t been great, neither was Mkhitaryan’s before his big last season. Anthony Martial had just scored his first goal of the season and would be looking to take advantage of that momentum, and of course, there’s United’s October Player of the Month Marcus Rashford.
Mkhitaryan’s words from back in the summer is starting to come true. With competition ahead of him and just now coming back from an injury, making his way into the team now is his new challenge. He’ll get his chances, sure, but making the most of those chances and climbing the pecking order could prove difficult. Whether he will win this difficulty or not is up to him.