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Previewing the Future: What to expect from Henrikh Mkhitaryan next season

Joining the club with a bang, Jose Mourinho signed four players to start his Manchester United tenure; Eric Bailly, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Bailly, somewhat surprisingly, became the spine of United’s defence, showing his ability to win the ball and position himself well. Pogba was the star of the show for much of the season, particularly in the media, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic bagged the goals and stole the spotlight.

For this reason, it’s a little bit bizarre that Henrikh Mkhitaryan hasn’t had the same impact, as it’s clear Mourinho signed all four to become the core of United’s side. Struggling with unforeseen fitness problems, as well as unforeseen Mourinho, Mkhitaryan took a while to find his place in the side before he became victim to United’s constant tweaking, finding himself deployed from the left, right, behind the striker and even up top.

While he was intentionally moved between these positions, this evidently wasn’t the plan, as that isn’t how Jose Mourinho tends to operate. Known for struggling to adapt to leagues during his time at Borussia Dortmund, Mkhitaryan should never have been expected to have the season of his life at Manchester United, but for the coming season, the factors weigh in his favour, and Mkhitaryan could be in line for a superb season if the following factors weigh in his favour.

Position

Mkhitaryan showed his best form as an attacking midfielder with a solid midfield behind him, in all cases. Dovetailing with Paul Pogba, United’s midfield looked unstoppable moving forward, and United saw their best and most clinical attacking form of the season during the stretch of play that ended with United’s EFL Cup triumph. However, this contradicts his trajectory at Borussia Dortmund, in which he struggled in the middle of the pitch before being shunted out wide right, in a move that yielded 23 goals and 32 assists from the Armenian.

The only common ground that can be drawn is that Mkhitaryan needs to be on the ball frequently to make a significant impact, and United’s midfielders often don’t receive the ball in good areas. This means either Mkhitaryan should be moved central, or a player should be brought in centrally (or a current player utilised) to bring the wingers into play more efficiently.

Work rate has been a constant from Mkhitaryan, who plays central midfield in a 4-4-2 for his country, this season, which leads me to believe he could be a central midfielder in a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 midfield, where he shifts the system with Paul Pogba as the Frenchman breaks into the final third, creating confusion for the opposition in classic Mourinho fashion (Cesc Fabregas and Oscar during his time at Chelsea).

Style

Mkhitaryan’s style is obvious, as he is quite literally the perfect footballer in theory. With a wide range of passing and quick feet, Mkhitaryan also has searing pace and excellent lateral movement that allows him to beat defenders seamlessly. He’s two-footed, very good in attack, and very good at intercepting the ball high up the pitch, or deep in United’s half.

Consistency has been the only problem for Mkhitaryan this season, particularly in the Premier League, where he has often failed to produce the same form he strung together in the cup competitions. This is more evidence that it was an adjusting problem, and more will come from Mkhitaryan next season. Again, giving him space and attacking football to work his magic would play a big part.

Contribution to Goals

Mkhitaryan’s struggle of a campaign still resulted in a season of 11 goals and five assists in all competitions, which is hardly poor considering the fact many of his goals have been very important. For this reason, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to suggest that Mkhitaryan could be involved in 30-40 goals next season, hopefully doubling his tally with more playing time.

Establishing himself as Mourinho’s primary attacking midfielder over the course of the season, Mkhitaryan cemented his place in the side with a series of important goals in the late stages in the Europa League, and United fans will be hoping this is an indicator of more to come. With many changes in United’s attack to add players who score goals, a player in the mould of Mkhitaryan could truly prosper next season in a more efficient system.

Written by Aaron Moniz

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