Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s form still hasn’t quite reached the levels expected since moving to Manchester United at the start of last season.
The Armenian international was billed as a flagship Premier League talent in the making but it took him much of 2016/17 to cement a place in the starting XI, while his form has dipped this season since claiming five assists in three games back in August.
Last night witnessed another underwhelming performance from the attacking midfielder as the Red Devils scraped a 1-0 win over Benfica in the Champions League, dependent on an incredibly costly error from the Portuguese outfit’s teenage goalkeeper, and United supporters were quick to express their displeasure on Twitter.
“We were the team that was positive and we were always in control. I never felt that we could concede a goal, we were very solid defensively – sometimes I feel that to be good defensively is a crime but it is not a crime.
“To be good defensively is one step to get results. We knew the Benfica pressure could not stay for 90 minutes.”
But upon an evening in which Jose Mourinho praised the defensive resilience of his side, who have conceded just once in the Champions League’s Group Stages so far this season, the United gaffer was likely more impressed with what Mkhitaryan offered off the ball – chiefly, three tackles, three interceptions and even one clearance.
To put that into some perspective, the 68-cap midfielder is yet to make a clearance in the Premier League this season, while he’s averaged just 1.1 tackle and 0.8 interceptions per match.
“Some players find it very easy whereas others need more time. They need time to feel the intensity, the aggression, the game without the ball and the competitiveness.
“The realities are often different, particularly in terms of the competitiveness. It doesn’t matter who you are against, you have to play at the highest level otherwise you will not be able to do it. Micki needs time to become the top player he knows he can be.”
Although he didn’t state it explicitly, defensive work-rate appeared to be one of the reasons Mourinho issued Mkhitaryan just 107 minutes of playing time in the Premier League at this point last season.
So, while some United fans are inevitably disappointed the 28-year-old didn’t have more impact offensively last night, especially considering how laborious the match was, Mourinho was surely pleased to see Mkhitaryan put the work in even when he wasn’t playing well.