The least talked about of Manchester United’s new arrivals this season, Henrikh Mkhitaryan arguably represented the best business of all United’s deals. Mkhitaryan is a versatile attacking midfielder who possesses arguably the greatest technical skill set of any footballer currently at Manchester United, but he has been left out of the Starting XI in United’s opening two matches. This article from the Manchester Evening News speculates why Mkhitaryan may not be in the starting lineup for United yet, and touches upon each of the following points that are covered in-depth below.
While it seemed Mkhitaryan looked very fit in United’s preseason matches, and he has not played football this summer, both of these could be a part of the problem. Mkhitaryan was unable to build upon his fitness in preseason because so many players needed to play football- he didn’t play anywhere close to 90 minutes in any of United’s preseason matches, and he didn’t have Armenian football to look towards either.
Players from around the world have often struggled to meet United’s fitness demands at the first time of asking. Luke Shaw famously struggled to find his fitness at United and picked up a three-month injury because of it. Now, some fans even believe he’s the best player to currently wear United red. Daley Blind struggled with Premier League forwards throughout his first season at the club. Now, he’s a starting defender, not even a midfielder. Both players eventually found their trade because of their outstanding talent, but it could take a while for Mkhitaryan to do the same.
Adjustment to Football
The Premier League’s outstanding physicality and pace is something that takes most footballers of Mkhitaryan’s type to adjust to. Memphis struggled terribly last season and looks like he’ll need another season of bedding in before he can finally shine. Most notably, Mesut Ozil became a villain of the media in his opening year in England, because of how poor he was at times. Some players are luckier, such as Dimitri Payet and Alexis Sanchez, but Mkhitaryan’s past record doesn’t favour him.
The Armenian notoriously failed to settle in at Borussia Dortmund after moving from Shakhtar Donetsk in the Ukrainian league, being one of their worst players for his first two years. Dortmund fans were more than irritated that he decided to leave after just one great year, especially after Jurgen Klopp put so much faith in him for two years without result. He eventually did settle in, of course, which again proves that he should be given time- hopefully, he does get such time at United, because he can be truly special even if he does settle in initially. Kevin De Bruyne, after settling into the Bundesliga, tore defences apart exactly the way Mkhitaryan did, and he hit the ground running in the Premier League, which suggests Mkhitaryan could do the same.
Mourinho wouldn’t take the risk of the media destruction of his footballers, especially in matches when he believes his team is sufficient anyways. This brings me to my next point.
Smaller Fixtures, Squad Rotation
The Community Shield was a competitive match that probably doesn’t mean much to the United board, which means he can use it as a chance to rotate his squad and give the likes of Jesse Lingard a chance to play and develop his seemingly good talent. Against Bournemouth, Mourinho clearly placed the belief that Juan Mata would be able to do enough to win the match without Mkhitaryan, especially considering the media berating his use of the Spaniard at Chelsea with misinformed facts. In games where Mourinho can afford to rotate Mkhitaryan, he will likely do so, because it keeps the squad harmonious and allows Mkhitaryan to play more of the more important matches.
Either which way, it is clear that Mkhitaryan will eventually win his place at United, and when he does, United fans will finally be able to watch their new attacking talent together. But Mourinho has to make sure that, when Mkhitaryan is bedded in and starts playing good football, he isn’t going to get in the way of United’s other right-sided options from these first two games. Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard clearly deserve the chances to succeed, more than others in the squad- and if they receive those chances alongside Mkhitaryan, everyone will be able to repay the faith.