After the signing of Henrikh Mkhitaryan from Borussia Dortmund in the summer, the Armenian midfielder struggled to find form and even a spot in the Manchester United matchday 18. Now following an impressive run in the past few performances in the Premier League, the EFL Cup, and the UEFA Europa League, Mkhitaryan is becoming vital to United’s offensive firepower. The former Shakhtar Donetsk star, the club where he signed for Dortmund from, found the back of the net in what was United’s opening goal and winner in a 2-0 win in Odessa against Zorya Luhansk in the final Europa League group stage match. The weather was not kind to United playing in nearly freezing temperatures with poor field conditions, but Mkhitaryan shined as he picked up the ball in the midfield and in a Maradona-esque way twisted and turned through the centre channel until he elected to slot home a shot from around the top of the box. In the post-match analysis for BT Sport, former United midfielder Paul Scholes praised Mkhitaryan for his efforts.
“It took him a little bit of time to settle in, but I think United fans after the last couple of weeks are starting to see the player that United paid a lot of money for.
“He has to be (a starter). Three or four weeks ago I thought it had to be a matter of time before you get him playing and he will start producing, and we’ve seen that with a little run of games.”
United dominated the entirety of the match and nothing seemed to be working in the goal-scoring department. Jose Mourinho’s men were crossing balls into the box in hopes that Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Paul Pogba could nod home a goal, but the crosses from Mkhitaryan, Juan Mata, and co. did not faze the Zorya defenders. What did, was the technical abilities of Mkhitaryan and then a nifty few touches from Ibrahimovic to set himself up for a similar finish to his Armenian teammate. For Michael Owen, Mkhitaryan is a must-start player in the team, but others were not short of his praise either.
“I think he goes in as my first choice.
“[Juan] Mata’s had such a fantastic season, you’d do well to leave him out. Obviously, you’ve got the pace of [Marcus] Rashford, you’ve got the experience and the quality of [Wayne] Rooney, you’ve got so many options…but I think Mkhitaryan would go in first if it was me.”
This can be just the beginning for Mkhitaryan as it becomes important that Mourinho recognizes the capabilities that he has in this United squad. Wayne Rooney appears to be on the way out with his form dropping and is productivity levels going away with age. Rooney is a goal shy of Sir Bobby Charlton’s 249-goal record with the club, but his speed and creativity are no longer associated with his current self. United are in good shape if Mkhitaryan can keep this form on a consistent basis, and right now he looks like what fans had anticipated from Angel Di Maria. Mkhitaryan has stayed positive, and it is finally beginning to pay off. With the game-changing performance in Europa League that Mkhitaryan had, Mourinho certainly was pleased with last year’s Bundesliga player of the year.
“He has a strong mentality. He was very determined to fight against his difficult adaptation, and he’s doing that in the best way.
“He worked really hard physically, tactically and the talent we know is there. The talent we knew what we were buying.
“He fought to improve tactically, he fought to improve physically, and now he is playing good in the Premier League, good in the Europa League and the EFL Cup, and now evolving a bit more happiness for him, so I’m very pleased.”