Manchester United have had a topsy-turvy season, with a new manager and several signings taking their time to gel into a successful system. ‘Boring football’ and an untold amount of injuries have been the story of their season so far but something has changed and the mood around Old Trafford is one of a positive note right now.
Four straight wins in all competitions means that aspirations of a top four push are back on, despite a title challenge being the expectations before the opening day. A considerable factor in United’s fortunes changing has been the impact of summer signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan. The Armenian international had a disappointing introduction to life in England with injury and looking out of favour with Jose Mourinho, yet a run of games has changed the perception of the attacking midfielder and United.
Mkhitaryan acting as the lynchpin, in between the duo of Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera and in-form Zlatan Ibrahimovic, is proving a recipe for success for the Red Devils. A 3-1 win over Sunderland was made even sweeter with it being against former United manager, David Moyes, who many rival fans have often made clear that he had better points tallies than Mourinho at stages of the season. But most of all, despite straying a fraction offside, Mkhitaryan delivering the goal of the season with an audacious scorpion kick finish to seal the points, a touch of class. If he can deliver more moments of genius, he can be the catalyst to United returning to the Champions League places.
Providing 11 goals and 15 assists for Dortmund on their way to being runners-up in the Bundesliga last campaign, highlighted his talents and made his slow start at United even more surprising. Fleet-footed, fantastic vision and clearly an eye for goal, he was ready-made for Premier League football. Now he is finding his flow at the core of United’s attack, they’re starting to look like a competitive side at the top end of the table. As he’s only played eight times, his stats aren’t as impressive as his counterparts at rival clubs. Yet, watching him ease into the United team and effect their style of play is making for a more appealing watch for home fans as well neutrals.
Home fans haven’t had it easy watching United over the last few years, from Moyes’ lacklustre structure to Louis Van Gaal’s misfiring red and white army. However, there are signs of light at the end of a long tunnel. Record signing Pogba is beginning to control games and partnerships with Ibra and Mkhitaryan are blossoming. Ibrahimovic is continuing to find the net and flourishes being surrounded by the pace of Jesse Lingard, Antony Martial and co. Keeping Mkhitaryan fit will also be key as United haven’t had a midfielder with that level of creativity and guile since the days of Ryan Giggs and even Cristiano Ronaldo.
It’s early days but he has proven he can be key to a side pushing at the top of the table as he did with Shakhtar Donetsk and Borussia Dortmund. Mourinho has often thrived off goal scoring midfielders in his title winning teams, be it Frank Lampard, Wesley Sneijder or Eden Hazard. In Mkhitaryan and Pogba, there are two quality midfielder players who are capable of chipping in when Ibra’s goals dry up. The Premier League crown may be beyond them, but hopes of a top four spot and a reuniting with Europe’s elite club competition is a realistic aspiration once again.
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