Before going on to do the objectively right thing and look at why Phil Neville was wrong about the now seemingly exiled attacking midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan at Manchester United, it is vital to evaluate how the 27-year old has fared so far at Old Trafford in 2017/18.
Mkhitaryan started the season – arguably the brightest, picking up from where he had left off in the season before scoring vital away goals in the Europa League run, culminating in a night to remember at Stockholm where he scored the second – to all but seal the tie ensuring safe delivery of Manchester United’s 42nd major honour.
With 5 assists in the opening 3 Premier League encounters, the Armenian was on track to break all sorts of records for Manchester United, but what actually followed was a serious dip in form which has completely stalled his career under the Portuguese. He has scored just twice since – his latest coming in Russia where he had about an hour to impress the ever-so-demanding boss.
Hooked at half-time in Huddersfield akin to the contingency substitution of last season in the Manchester derby that United were collectively outplayed in, Mkhitaryan has once again suffered to replicate any kind of consistency showed in the opening weeks in the last two months.
Part of the Armenian’s decline in form and fortunes is understandably down to his innate nature of ‘ghosting through games’ without majorly influencing the attacking play in a way that often requires a moment of individual brilliance to offset a lack of cohesion – a trait that Jose Mourinho inherently dislikes which is also incidentally a feature quite prominent in Anthony Martial’s game, for instance. Mkhitaryan rarely takes the game by the scruff of his neck – in the way the likes of Eden Hazard and Alexis Sanchez have done in the past.
But prior evidence, particularly games against the fellow top six sides under Jose Mourinho, quite clearly points to systemic issues across United’s attacking setup which undercuts the blame that is willingly shoved on the Armenian.
Not least, by Phil Neville, who has deemed the 27-year old ‘lucky’ as if the footballer in question is currently being paid to do a job he is failing almost consistently and miserably at. In an interview to Sky Sports – he said,
“There’s a lot of criticism of Jose’s treatment of Henrikh Mkhitaryan but he ultimately didn’t deliver when he’s played. He’s not unlucky, he’s lucky he gets to play for United. Under Sir Alex, if I didn’t perform I wasn’t in the team. People need to stop sugar-coating it. If you don’t perform then you don’t get in the team or a new contract, it’s not Jose being personal, it’s business.”
There’s no incentive to wasting a player’s talent away by dropping him to the bench for an indefinite amount of time and drain the confidence and expect the reverse to happen. It’s no secret that Mkhitaryan is the type of player who thrives on constant playing time to get into a rhythm, much like former captain Wayne Rooney. His form in the second half of last season when he was consistently picked, and in the early months of 2017, is testament to that.
What is encouraging, however, both for Mourinho and Mkhitaryan in a way – is the fact that United do not seem to miss the 27-year old as much as they should – for a player of his abilities. Jesse Lingard, for example, has benefited the most by filling in the void left by the Armenian at number 10 – scoring four in the last four away matches. If anything, there is now a target to chase for Henrikh Mkhitaryan, an objective to focus on – that is force himself back into the manager’s plans as all is not lost yet.
There is plenty of football left in the season for the Armenian to prove Phil Neville wrong.