At £26 million, Henrikh Mkhitaryan would have been a record transfer for eight separate Premier League clubs. At Manchester United, £26 million doesn’t even crack the top ten. Mkhitaryan wasn’t even United’s most expensive signing this summer, so the 27-year-old came to Old Trafford under the radar.
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Even Jose Mourinho seemed to forget that he had signed the Armenian. In the first few matches, Mkhitaryan never managed to play more than 30 minutes and a poor showing against Manchester City in September saw the winger benched until November. Mourinho rationalized Mkhitaryan’s demotion to a lack or size and unfamiliarity with the Premier League’s physical style. It is true that Mkhitaryan didn’t look like he was settling in with the Red Devils. There was even talk that he was looking for a return to Borussia Dortmund, the club with which he was voted Bundesliga player of the season last year.
During Mkhitaryan’s time on the bench, United continually struggled. Creatively, the team was a mess. Mkhitaryan’s particular skillset would have been an asset, and he was eager to show Mourinho that he was able to contribute. While waiting for an opportunity, Mkhitaryan put on six pounds of muscle. If he wasn’t physically ready for the Premier League’s physicality, he quickly remedied that.
Mkhitaryan made his return to United’s lineup in the Europa League in a 4-0 victory over Feyenoord, while Mkhitaryan didn’t dazzle it was his first start for the Manchester side. Since then, he’s featured in every United match and started four of the six. Since his return to the lineup, United have looked much more like the team everyone was expecting from a Mourinho side. They started looking like a genuine top-four team. Mkhitaryan has had a major role in this resurgence.
[link_box id=”23195″ site_id=”158″ layout=”link-box-third” alignment=”alignright”]Anyone who watched him play at Dortmund knew that Mkhitaryan could be a creative force for United’s attack. His ability to create out wide opens up space for central players like Paul Pogba. At Dortmund, he collected 15 assists in his final season with BVB. His passing ability made Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang a very happy striker, and he now has the chance to do the same for Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
In the EPL cup against West Ham United, Mkhitaryan notched his first two assists for United and helped to emphatically beat the London side 4-1. The first assist went to Ibrahimovic, the second to Antony Martial. It was another excellent performance, but he still hadn’t returned to action in the Premier League. After impressing in the League Cup and the Europa League, Mkhitaryan showed he was ready for the league. and he got his chance against Everton. Against the Toffees, United looked strong, and so did the former Dortmund winger. Were it not for a clumsy penalty conceded by Marouane Fellaini, United would have another win and another quality performance for the £26 million signing.
Mkhitaryan’s first goal for his new club came in the Europa League, just days after the disappointing draw with Everton. In fact, his goal against Zorya would start him on a goal scoring streak. The weekend following the Europa League, the Armenian scored his first goal for United in a win over Tottenham. On Boxing day he did it again, scoring a stunning scorpion kick against Sunderland. He’s now scored in three straight games, and while before he couldn’t get a game for three months, he now seems indispensable.
United’s change in fortune this year has coincided nicely with Mkhitaryan’s emergence. While it could just be a coincidence, the 27-year-old’s creativity and skill suggest otherwise. It took time for Mkhitaryan to find his game at Dortmund, but when he did he was one of the league’s best players. Perhaps it took the winger time, and a little bit of added muscle, to adapt to his surroundings once again. With United throwing around obscene amounts of money in the summer, it could be the relatively inexpensive signing of Mkhitaryan that proves to be the most valuable.