José Mourinho’s ‘Henrikh Mkhitaryan’ project
At his first press conference as Manchester United manager, José Mourinho made it pretty clear that he wanted four specialists. The subsequent capture of Paul Pogba, albeit a rather drawn out affair, was seen as the completion of that process, with the Frenchman joining Eric Bailly, Zlatan Ibrahimović and Henrikh Mkhitaryan at Old Trafford.
Pogba was forced to sit out United’s first Premier League match due to a suspension carried over from his time in Serie A but he has gone on to feature in every game since and it’s a similar story for Ibra, who has missed just the one league game through suspension.
Bailly missed the whole of November, after sustaining a knee injury in late October and also missed 6 matches earlier this year due to Ivory Coast’s involvement in the Africa Cup of Nations. He will be forced to serve a European ban, after seeing the red mist in the 2nd leg of United’s ’round of 32′ Europa League tie with Saint-Etienne but that is unlikely to hinder his Premier League starts between now and the end of the season. Mounting injury problems for the unfortunate Phil Jones means that it is Bailly’s shirt to lose.
However, Mkhitaryan remains the real conundrum. Are United a better team when he plays? Well, the stats would certainly suggest so, as indicated in the Oulala infographic below.
If United had secured 2.1 points per game, they would have been sitting in 2nd place, just ahead of neighbours’ Manchester City. However, it is hard to get away from a feeling that there is much more to come from the Armenian schemer.
His Manchester United career did not get off to the best of starts. After making 3 appearances from the bench, he made his full debut in the Manchester derby at Old Trafford in September, only to suffer the indignity of being substituted at half-time. He wouldn’t start another Premier League game until December, with Mourinho publicly questioning his physical and mental attitude.
To his credit Mkhitaryan knuckled down and he has since put in some impressive showings. However, as the season reaches its climax, fantasy football managers who are considering him as a differential are likely to have two concerns – is he injury prone and what exactly is his best position?
Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s injury record
Despite giving United the lead in Saint-Etienne, he hobbled off after just 25 minutes, with a hamstring strain. While this could have been a precautionary measure since United had a comfortable 4 goal cushion in the tie, the early indications suggest that he will not be available for the EFL Cup final against Southampton.
A muscle strain was the reason cited for ruling him out for 7 matches earlier in the campaign, so this latest setback is clearly concerning.
However, he only missed 4 matches for Borussia Dortmund last season, 2 in April when he was rested and 2 in October due to a calf injury. This was an improvement on his two previous campaigns with the German giants, when he sat out a total of 10 games according to data from Transfermarkt.
What is Mkhi’s best position?
Prior to the Europa League game in France, Mkhitaryan had completed the 90 minutes in 4 of his previous 7 appearances, suggesting that any initial concerns Mourinho may have had about his physical condition have now passed. However, the real enigma lies with how United’s Portuguese manager plans to deploy the former Dortmund star going forward.
In his short United career, Mkhitaryan has already occupied 6 different starting positions but recent developments indicate that Mourinho may see his pace as a key asset, playing as a ‘number 10’, something neither Ibrahimović, Wayne Rooney or Juan Mata are particularly blessed with. This would see a shift from a 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3-1, putting immense pressure on the world’s most expensive player, Pogba, to prove that he can operate in a 2-man midfield.
Mkhitaryan is clearly a fine player, a return of 11 goals and 15 assists in last season’s Bundesliga speaks for itself but fantasy football managers will need to decide if he is worth the risk between now and the end of the season.
Mourinho might just have some ‘special’ plans for him!