When players go off on an international break midseason football fans are often on edge hoping and praying that no stars from their club side return to duty with an injury, especially if an important fixture is on the horizon. But, unfortunately for Manchester United in a collision with Marek Suchy during Armenia’s 3-0 defeat to the Czech Republic, Henrikh Mkhitaryan has seemingly picked up a knee injury which led to him being substituted in the 38th minute. At first, it was believed that removing the former Borussia Dortmund man from the field was completely precautionary, however, reports have emerged suggesting that the playmaker is potentially a doubt for the up and coming Manchester derby.
United completed the signing of Mkhitaryan in early July for a fee of just £26.3 million and when you compare that to the amount other clubs have spent on a player initially classed as a lower type of calibre to the Armenian, you could say it is quite a steal. The 27-year-old was remarkably voted the Bundesliga Player of the Season after the last campaign and understandably so when you consider the fact he impressively picked up 11 goals and 20 assists in 31 games, in the league. His record in all competitions was also superb, the midfielder conjured up a total of 23 goals and 32 assists in 52 fixtures.
In the four competitive matches the number 22 has appeared in this season for Jose Mourinho’s side, he has not yet managed to pick up a goal or an assist to his name, although the player is seemingly being eased into life in the Premier League and at Manchester United, as well as feeling the effects of Juan Mata’s early season form, because he has only managed to complete a collective total of 59 minutes on the field. Against Leicester City in the FA Community Shield the player came on in stoppage time when United clashed with AFC Bournemouth and Southampton – the games were already won quite comfortably so the foot was somewhat taken off the gas. It was not up until Hull City away last weekend that the eager Red Devil’s supporters got to witness what the club’s really spent their money on. At the KCOM Stadium, there were plenty of promising signs, the player put together some superb driving runs and helped United change the dynamics of the game that they eventually went on to win 1-0 courtesy of a Marcus Rashford 92nd minute winner.
With the Armenia international potentially being out of the first Derby Day of the season for Manchester United, how will it affect Mourinho’s line-up? Being honest, it would be surprising if the attacking midfielder started the game anyway, if he is fit, simply due to the fact United’s Portuguese manager has opted to select Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard in the opening fixtures this season – so it would be somewhat a bit of a shock if he handed Mkhitaryan his first start for the club in a derby. Mourinho has also been on record in the past admitting that there is no rush for the player to begin to start games at the club, as well as constantly reiterating he has a positive feeling about him being a complete success at Old Trafford – on the other hand, the former Chelsea manager could have been eyeing up the first Mourinho vs Pep Guardiola clash in the Premier League at the Theatre of Dreams as the perfect chance to start the player in order for him to really announce himself.
Going by evidence portrayed already this campaign, Mata or Lingard would be more than worthy enough to take to the field ahead of the Mkhitaryan once again, if necessary due to injury or if the Portugal-born boss simply opts with that anyway. Mata, who at the start of the Mourinho era being tipped to face the exit door, is in the process of proving doubters wrong – along with Antonio Valencia, the Spaniard was arguably United’s player of the pre-season, furthermore the ex-Chelsea star also managed to get on the scoresheet on the opening day of the campaign. The Warrington-born man, Lingard, also had a respectable pre-season and after a brilliant solo run at Wembley in the FA Community Shield against the Champions, Leicester City, provided the finish to go with it which got himself another important goal, but unfortunately an injury he picked up during that game has sat him out of the rest of the matches played before the current international break.
Manchester United’s strength in depth in the attacking positions is certainly something we will see evidence of and hopefully reap the awards of throughout the season. As Memphis Depay, Rashford and Ashley Young are three more players who could easily do a job in the right-midfield role. But the aforementioned players earlier in the article have been performing well recently – so, it is unlikely the manager will start with any of those options in that position for this particular fixture.