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Henrikh Mkhitaryan: Manchester United's ideal number 10

Friday 29th September 2017
Henrikh Mkhitaryan's transition from the Bundesliga to the Premier League was not exactly smooth. Some players require time to come good.

Jose Mourinho bought Mkhitaryan in 2016, following the Armenian's excellent performances for Borussia Dortmund. In 52 appearances with the Black and Yellows during his final season, he was directly involved in 55 goals. However, he couldn't continue that form at Manchester United.

His struggles in the English game led to a poor season. Hard work has paid off, however, turning his fortunes around this season. Mkhitaryan has been on fire while playing in his ideal position. A pacy, attacking midfielder with an eye for goal, passing, dribbling, crossing and making runs with/without the ball are his strengths. His more central role this season has played into those strengths.

Earning Mourinho's Trust

When Mkhitaryan arrived, Mourinho said he wasn't ready to play. Coming off an injury, Mourinho also felt that the former Dortmund man's fitness wasn't up to the Premier League. Not that it was a problem.

Mkhi worked hard, put on muscle, and added weekend training sessions to the manager's proscribed regimen. It paid off. When Mourinho rewarded him with game time, he shined.
During the process, they bonded.

Mourinho: In the beginning of last season if he understands me better, he would have started better. But at the same time, if I understood him better, I would probably have helped him in a faster way than I did. But we spent our time together, working together, learning each other. The second part of last season was good for him and I believe with his talent that this season is going to be even better.

MkhitaryanI have learned a lot from him and will continue to do so this season. Jose is a winner.

More Suited To Play Centrally

When Mkhitaryan arrived at BvB from Shakhtar Donetsk, Jurgen Klopp played him out of position. He couldn't shine.
Even in his second season, he couldn't hit peak form. Then, under Thomas Tuchel, he raised the Westfalonstadion roof. In his penultimate season, Mkhitaryan was the Bundesliga Players' Player of the Season. It was all down to a tactical change. Although the Armenian's starting position was out wide, he was allowed to cut in whenever he preferred. This freedom allowed him to unleash his creativity in the centre of the pitch.

Last season, at United, the 28-year-old was asked to play on the right wing in a 4-3-3 or a 4-5-1. He was required to track back frequently, assigned extensive defensive duties. It wasn't his his ideal role. Not in the thick of the attack, he only managed 11 goals and, especially disappointing, five assists in 41 appearances.

This season, Mkhitaryan has been playing as a central attacking midfielder in a 4-2-3-1. In case you've missed it, he has been terrific. He has registered 15 key passes, 6 through balls, a record-tying five assists and one goal in six Premier League appearances.

When playing centrally, the Armenian becomes more involved in the overall play. He creates scoring opportunities. The evidence is overwhelming that Mkhitaryan plays better centrally rather than out wide.

Ideal Formation

'Heno' thrives surrounded by quick, intelligent players. This year, Mourinho has found the perfect setup for him to shine. With a big, mobile striker up front, an improvisational genius alongside, pace on the left flank, and two strong, visionary midfielders behind, Mkhitaryan has blossomed as a number 10. He can drift out wide when Juan Mata cuts in, unleash Romelu Lukaku, Marcus Rashford, or Anthony Martial's pace with through balls, or build up play with Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic. The latter pairing assume the bulk of the midfield defensive responsibilities. Mkhitaryan need only concern himself with pressing in the opponent's half.
Mkhitaryan is now free to unchain his dangerous counter-attacking abilities. Manchester United have revived old tactics, catching foes off guard with fast breaks. The former Shakhtar man has been pivotal in the revival. He can either carry the ball forward or play telling passes to clear targets, tearing the opposition apart.

No one is perfect. Mkhi's decision-making is at times poor; he'll hold the ball too long or take on too many defenders.
Even so, the Armenian's strengths outweigh his weaknesses. He has been phenomenal, this season, looking like the real deal. His exploits recall his peak Dortmund form. Manchester United have a way to go to return to Alex Ferguson-era levels, but in Henrikh Mkhitaryan, they have a tailor-made number 10 for their playing style.
Vedansh Nathani

Manchester United fan from India. Follows almost all sports - football and pro-wrestling in particular. Wayne Rooney, Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho are some of his favourites.

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