Manchester United fans will feel they had more reason than usual to tune in to tonight’s Europa League clash against Feyenoord, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan finally handed a start by Jose Mourinho.
The Armenian playmaker has been bizarrely frozen out so far at United, despite the club paying around £26million to sign him from Borussia Dortmund in the summer after an absolutely outstanding campaign in the Bundesliga last year.
So how did Mkhitaryan get on after being awarded a rare start in a Red shirt? Here’s our analysis of his game against Feyenoord…
Able to play a variety of attacking midfield roles, many fans will have been eager to see where Mkhitaryan finally ended up when picked by Mourinho.
On this occasion, the 27-year-old was used on the left of that trio behind the main striker, though he drifted centrally to good effect, as did Juan Mata from the right flank. He later moved to the right when Marcus Rashford came on for Mata.
Given that Anthony Martial and Rashford have been largely unconvincing in that role for much of the season, there’s surely a place for him there, even if Mourinho can claim he has top class options elsewhere in his attack.
What did he do well?
We might not share Mourinho’s view of what an attacking midfielder like Mkhitaryan *should* be doing, but from where we were sitting he did pretty much everything you’d expect of him very well.
He got fans off their seats with some superb link-up play with Wayne Rooney, and he wasn’t shy of taking a shot at goal when given the chance.
His passing was good and he was dangerous on the ball, going on a run early in the second half that should have put him through on goal if not for a foul worthy of a red card that went unpunished.
For a player surely lacking in match fitness and sharpness after so long banished to the sidelines, Mkhitaryan barely put a foot wrong tonight.
A lack of pace in United’s attack perhaps gave him fewer good passing options than he will have enjoyed playing alongside the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang at Dortmund last season, but that of course can’t be blamed on him.
Mourinho may have hoped for more defensive work from the Armenian, but that should not be enough to count against him after such an accomplished display.
Only Mourinho can answer that, but our answer from this evening’s evidence is that he definitely should.
Offering speed, creativity and flair from the left-hand side, Mkhitaryan had pretty much everything that United have been missing in so many games this season.
As already mentioned, there’s not a huge amount of competition for that spot on the left of United’s attacking midfield three, so there’s really no excuse for Mourinho to ignore this potential star any longer.