In just two games of Manchester United’s summer tour to America, Henrikh Mkhitaryan is proving he can be the difference maker the Red Devils desperately crave.
There was frenzied excitement when the Armenian architect joined from Borussia Dortmund last summer, having just captured the Bundesliga Player of the Season award.
And there were plenty of flashes of the brilliance we’ve come to expect from the 28-year-old over the previous three years at Westfalenstadion, and indeed his three seasons with Shakhtar Donetsk prior to that.
It was by no means a flawless campaign. For all his undoubted class he lacked consistency. His form came in patches and he even found himself on the end of some stinging criticism from boss Jose Mourinho.
Mkhitaryan was dropped for the 1-1 home draw with Everton on April 4, having been replaced due to a poor performance during the goalless draw at West Brom three days earlier.
“I am not happy with Mkhi’s performance in the last match” said the Portuguese, while later that month, when asked to assess Mkhitaryan’s performances, Mourinho said “Good, in the Europa League”.
But whereas Mourinho’s words seem to be falling on deaf ears in Anthony Martial or Luke Shaw’s cases, Mkhitaryan appears to hear him loud and clear.
The criticism detracts slightly from what was nevertheless a very impressive debut season in England for Mhkitaryan, capped 64 times by his country.
He bagged 11 goals in 41 games in all competitions, although given his reputation as a creative No10, his tally of just one assist all season leaves much to be desired.
As with all new arrivals into the Premier League, Mkhitaryan seemed to struggle at times with the pace of the league. In 15 of his Premier League starts, he was replaced 11 times. In the Europa League he came off in eight of the 10 games in which he made the starting 11.
In all he was substituted 22 times in 30 games that he started.
But if the opening two matches of the US tour are anything to go by he’s adding stamina to his game.
At a time when players are developing their fitness and seeking sharpness, Mkhitaryan looks in tremendous shape already – despite the camera seemingly adding 10lbs when he was used to showcase the new home shirt on Twitter.
It looks like Henrikh Mkhitaryan returned back for pre-season training....three months pregnant. ?? pic.twitter.com/jmIR7Qwnul— Sunday League (@SundayShoutsFC) July 9, 2017
His burst of pace in the opening game against LA Galaxy when receiving the ball in his own half was explosive, as he hurtled 60 metres and set up a chance for Romelu Lukaku, leaving two markers trailing in his wake.
His contribution at the top end of the pitch has also been lethal. He scored in both the opener and Tuesday’s second game against Real Salt Lake.
His two finishes have been clinical, one left foot, one right, while his assist for Lukaku’s first United goal, which turned out to be the winner against Real, was simply sublime.
He’s been wasteful at times in possession, which is to be expected in pre-season. But he’s knitted the play together wonderfully, piercing the MLS duo’s defences with intricate passes and linking effortlessly with his attacking colleagues. While also showing a keener hunger for tracking back too – something Mourinho would have undoubtedly asked him to improve.
Whereas pre-season results should not be read in to too that much, eye-catching individual performances tell a different tale. Mkhitaryan has shown little sign of rustiness and has hit the ground running, seemingly focused on showing his worth to Mourinho, his teammates and United fans this coming season.
After a promising start to life at Old Trafford, the man affectionately known as Mkhi is looking so fine and could light up the Premier League in 2017/18 as well as Old Trafford for years to come.
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