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Magical Mkhitaryan

Henrikh Mkhitaryan, the Armenian magician. The sheer brilliance of the midfield maestro this season has been astonishing. His highly anticipated arrival in the starting line up has rejuvenated and revitalised our attacking force. Although all four of our summer signings have been excellent, Mkhitaryan’s exceptional impact can partially be attributed to his prime age on arrival (27) compared with Bailly and Pogba (early twenties) and Zlatan (mid thirties). It is not only his incredible work ethic which has impressed but the decisive, match winning pieces of imperious brilliance, which have illuminated our season. Is it a coincidence that his reintroduction to the team at the end of November prompted a dramatic upsurge in our fortunes and performance levels?

His first Premier League goal against Tottenham was quite simply breathtaking; a finish of aplomb and finesse which fuelled our expectations that Mkhitaryan could be a talismanic figure in our attacking skirmishes.  Whilst I do not share Spurs fans’ admiration of the talents of their left back Danny Rose, his lightning pace is unquestionable. So when Mkhitaryan motored past him with sublime ease and was brought down despairingly by the lunging Rose, I gained further proof that we had acquired a genuine gem. His subsequent injury from the abhorrent challenge strengthened the fervour and clamour surrounding the Armenian, and our firm belief that we had found the missing piece of our team.

All of this was in stark contrast to his initial Premier League debut where he was the main culprit (along with Jesse Lingard) in a sobering 2-1 defeat against Manchester City. His lack of game time and match fitness was really exposed by the high energetic pressing of Guardiola’s side.  Hauled off at half time, Mkhitaryan no doubt had a baptism of fire to the English Premier League.  He looked a shadow of the player who had terrorised the Bundesliga last season, scoring 23 goals and assisting a further 26, an average of a contributing to a goal every 89 minutes in all competitions.

However, Mkhitaryan wouldn’t allow this poor debut to thwart him entirely. Rather, he used it as galvanisation and worked extremely hard to win back his place. As Jesse Lingard revealed in a recent interview with FourFourTwo, Mkhitaryan is the earliest to arrive at training, which shows his dedication and exemplary work ethic. Mkhitaryan’s professionalism and endeavour will surely have impressed Jose Mourinho, who with his repeated picks of Marouane Fellaini, has shown that he values desire and passion as much as skill and technique.

Mkhitaryan, also, has an incredible propensity to show moments of true attacking brilliance, whether this is a defence splitting pass, a mouth-watering dribble or an outstanding finish. His scorpion kick against Sunderland epitomised the immense quality that he has. The goal may have been scored from an offside position but the linesman who denied it would have been deemed an enemy of football had he flagged. It wasn’t just the exquisite nature of the precise contact but the placement of the strike which nestled into the corner of the goal. It was quite simply extraordinary and deservedly won Goal of the Month.

Another of Mkhitaryan’s most impressive skills is his ability to track back and win possession for the team.  Unlike some other members of the team, if he loses the ball, he will chase his dispossessor to retrieve possession.  In the recent FA Cup match against Blackburn, Mkhitaryan’s offensive statistics were impressive with 1 assist, 7 dribbles and 66 passes but he also won 100% of his tackles. This redoubtable ethos not only impresses the fans, but inspires the other players to try their utmost at all times. I feel that the majority of fans will accept defeat, if the players have tried their absolute best and shown maximum effort. Mkhitaryan’s heart and pride in his work is unquestionable.

His pace, so unusual for a creative play maker, adds a further asset which has proved invaluable this season as he terrorises defences and offers the threat in behind when bursting clear against opponents such as Tottenham and Leicester in the league, for example.  In the one on one situations, Mkhitaryan shows composure and class in taking the right amount of touches before executing the final pass or finishing with conviction.  Indeed, with his abundant pace, Mkhitaryan has stated that he would have been a sprinter, had he not become a footballer. Attacking verve is characterised by quick, skilful players of which Mkhitaryan is amongst the best in world football.

At 5ft 10 inches Mkhitaryan is not the tallest player but has shown that given the chance he can contribute aerially also.  It was his towering leap above the Hull defender in the opening leg of our League Cup Semi Final that directly assisted Juan Mata, who had the simplest of close range finishes from Mkhitaryan’s perfectly placed header. This is important as taller players like Marouane Fellaini and Zlatan Ibrahimovic will often draw the opponents’ direct attention and smaller players like Mkhitaryan can ghost in for set pieces and crosses as he did on Thursday against St Etienne.

Footballers are often praised on their intelligence, ability to read the game and make the correct decisions. Mkhitaryan is multilingual, fluent in six languages: Armenian, Russian, English, German, French, Portuguese and also some Italian. This is a somewhat rare and admirable trait, as it shows an intelligence which disproves the common rhetoric that footballers are all unintelligent, other than with their feet. Certainly, one can imagine that with the multinational Manchester United squad, these lingual skills will enable him to more closely bond with his team mates.

Undoubtedly, we have seen that Mkhitaryan’s vision and execution are incredible. His backheel assist for Zlatan’s opening goal in our 4-0 demolition of West Ham off his weaker left foot, gave a tantalising glimpse of Mkhitaryan’s ingenuity and flair which have gained him accolades and plaudits from pundits and fans alike. His slide rules passes have further characterised his precision and tremendous ability, notable mentions, include his assist for Mata against Leicester and his assist for Rashford against Blackburn Rovers.

He and Mata, in particular, seem to revel playing with one another exchanging intricate, quick passes when playing together, never more showcased than by the one two the pair exchanged for Mata’s strike against Leicester.  Mata repaid the debt, when he curled a delicious cross into Mkhitaryan’s path to stab home the away goal against St Etienne.  Replays show that Mkhitaryan points to Mata where he wants the ball, as the latter looks up and further cements the chemistry the two seem to have.

Mourinho has been seen to trust certain members of his team well above others.  Many Manchester United fans for instance, have been wont to observe that Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba seem beyond approach and censure for below average performances.  They are picked in almost all games and seem above substitution. It is a credit to Mkhitaryan that his efforts and skill level are commensurately rewarded with becoming a member of Mourinho’s elite contingent of trusted acolytes.  However, the debilitating effect which this immense game time can have was exposed when Mkhitaryan pulled up with a hamstring injury ruling him out of this weekend’s League Cup Final.

His import to the team can be judged in the uncertainty surrounding whom to pick to replace Mkhitaryan.  There are a wide variety of options being bandied about whether to use Lingard, Rooney, Fellaini in the more attacking role, or switching the formation to allow a deep lying player like Michael Carrick to play. When a team contends with having to alter its formation in your absence you know you’re a key component of it.

There is no higher honour or epithet which I can bestow upon Mkhitaryan than that he reminds me of Cristiano Ronaldo.  The parallels with the Portuguese’s second goal in the 2009 Champions League away tie against Arsenal and Mkhitaryan’s goal against Wigan are striking. In both, the players run at breathtaking pace and are involved in a rapier sharp, counter attack exchanging passes from deep in their own half and finish with distinction.  Mkhitaryan is in the same mould as Ronaldo, a thrilling, exhilarating player whom fans can enthuse and rave about.

It is easy to forget that Mkhitaryan wasn’t playing in the autumn of this year. Many fans became restless and there was a general feeling of despondency and dejection that the Armenian would be offloaded.  Mkhitaryan has since, graciously, admitted that Mourinho acted in his player’s best interests and that his absence from the front line had served him well when he has vindicated his reputation over the last three months.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan has firmly embedded himself in the Manchester United team, evident as we desperately search for a replacement for the League Cup Final.  After his winning goal in Wednesday’s 1-0 win over St Etienne, Mkhitaryan has been directly involved in 11 goals in his last 16 games for Manchester United with 6 goals and 5 assists. A strong argument could be made that Mkhitaryan is both our best and most invaluable player, with his plethora of attributes and panache. He has certainly become a firm fans’ favourite and one of mine.

 

 

 

The rise and fall of Phil Jones

He was once touted as the future captain of Manchester United and England but Phil Jones career at United has not just stalled but seemingly come to an end. A career that started so promisingly for the young English defender has been blighted with injury and an inability to stay fit.

Phil Jones has been ruled out with another injury and will miss at least the next month with a knee injury. Jones injury record has become some what of a joke among United supporters and most will now surely be asking if his time at Old Trafford has come to an end.

Jones was signed by the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson for £16.5 million from Blackburn Rovers in June 2011 after just two years with the Blackburn senior team. Sir Alex was particularly impressed with his commitment and leadership skills at centre-back, even at the young age of just 19.

Phil Jones was signed by Sir Alex Ferguson in 2011 (Picture: zimbio.com)
Phil Jones was signed by Sir Alex Ferguson in 2011 (Picture: zimbio.com)

His debut for United came during the 2011-2012 pre-season tour of the USA against Chicago Fire and he made his competitive debut in the 3-2 Community Shield win against Manchester City. Jones first season with the club was a successful one appearing 41 times in all competitions, scoring twice, with his first goal coming in a 1-0 away win over Aston Villa.

Jones received rave reviews for performances against Bolton, in which he provided 2 assist, Chelsea and Liverpool early on in the season. During 2011, then England manager Fabio Capello, compared Jones to former Milan and Italy captain Franco Baresi and former Real Madrid and Spain captain Fernando Hierro.

The 2012-2013 season for Jones was halted by injury and he only managed 24 appearances in all competitions for United. However he came back strong during 2013-2014 season, which was arguably his best season in a United shirt, making 39 appearances in all competitions for United and scoring 3 goals.

In 2013, after a game against Aston Villa, Sir Alex said after the match “You saw Jones tonight, arguably, the way he is looking, he could be our best-ever player.” With Sir Bobby Charlton also being known to have said that Phil Jones reminded him of Duncan Edwards.

Those words of praise for Phil Jones by Sir Alex Ferguson have yet to materialise and seemingly never will. From the end of the 2013-2014 season until now Jones has only managed 37 appearances for United in over 2 years. His season last year was wrecked before it began with yet another injury and during September Jones even admitted that Chris Smalling and Daley Blind were ahead of him in the pecking order.

Phil Jones picks up an injury against Hull City in 2014 (Picture: brunchnews.com)
Phil Jones picks up an injury against Hull City in 2014 (Picture: brunchnews.com)

The injuries sustained at the start of the 2015-2016 season may well prove to be the most costly in regards to Jones long term future at the club. Whilst Jones continued with injuries Chris Smalling was able to stay fit, become United’s starting centre back and never looked back. Jones has become United’s Mr Unreliable and unreliability is a death sentence at any big club.

The vast amount of injuries have more than prevented Jones from developing and evolving into a powerful, commanding and top class centre-back. Jones was tipped for the very top and was certainly heading that way early on in his United career. However the consistent and unrelenting injuries seem to have stopped Jones from reaching his potential and have left him at a crossroads.

Jones is still only 24 years of age, still relatively young for a centre-back, and could yet force his way into Jose Mourinho’s plans. However with the consistent run of injuries and inability to stay fit the more than likely outcome will be that United will look to sell the defender at the end of the season. Jones will then need to fight to save his footballing career and make sure he does not fade away into obscurity.

How do you feel about Phil Jones? Do you feel sorry for him? Do you feel he could have been a United great if not for injuries? Let us know you thoughts in the comments below.

Luke Shaw to miss Europa league match

Luke Shaw is set to miss the midweek clash with Feyenoord after picking up a slight hamstring strain against Man City on Saturday.

Jose Mourinho is unlikely to risk Shaw for the opening game of United’s Europa League campaign in Rotterdam on Thursday with Marcos Rojo set to come in.

The game in Holland falls exactly 1 year after Shaw’s horrific leg break which he sustained in a clash with PSV Eindhoven’s Hector Moreno.

Luke Shaw spent 7 months out injured and only returned at the start of this season and recently admitted he feared his career might be over.

“When I did it, the first thought that went through my head was, ‘Am I going to play football again or how long am I going to be out for?

“It wasn’t too much about the pain because I could deal with that.

“But, yeah, there was a fear about how long it was going to take or if I was I was even going to be back playing football.

“But as I went through it (the recovery process) I knew I was coming back and I’m looking past it.”

Shaw was one of United’s best performers last season before his injury and his return has been a welcome sight in the United defence.

His pace and power coupled with his defensive prowess and ability to attack has made Shaw one of the best left backs in England.

Shaw will surely look to build on his positive return from injury and push for the starting left back spot in the England squad this season.

Rooney set to return after International break

Rooney has been out with a knee ligament injury since the middle of February and is set to return after England’s friendly matches against Germany and Holland.

The Manchester United and England captain expects to feature in United’s final run-in in the Premier League and any potential Europa League and FA Cup matches.

Rooney will also then have three warm up games with England at the end of May/beginning of June, so he is confident he will be ready and fit.

Rooney is quoted by The Sun:

I am hoping if I am back when I am expected to be back, depending on the two cups we are still in, then there could be 10 games left for United plus the England games so I don’t think that would be a worry.

It is going as planned. It is going how we first thought. It is going well so hopefully it won’t be too long now. I don’t know for definite but after the international break. Obviously I will miss the England games, but it shouldn’t be too long after that.

It is not too bad. We are being a bit cautious. It is a difficult one to try and push back. If I try and push and be involved now it could cause more damage. So we are being cautious.

You can read the full article on the Guardian website by clicking here.

Smalling and de Gea could return for Arsenal game

United centre back Chris Smalling could feature against Arsenal on Sunday.

Chris Smalling has been one of United’s most consistent players this season along with goal keeper David de Gea, who could also return for the clash against Arsenal.

Smalling picked up a shoulder injury in the FA Cup game against Shrewsbury Town on Monday night and missed only his 2nd game this season when United played Midtjylland on Thursday evening.

The 26 year old has made good progress on the recovery and when asked about his recent form, he had this to say:

Touch wood, that carries on.

I was disappointed to miss the other night, but I’m hoping to be okay to play this game.

I’ve not really done anything differently to the other lads but, probably from about halfway through last season, I got on a good run in the team and I’ve just tried to carry that on from there. Long may it continue.

Arsenal are Smalling’s boyhood club and when asked about the fixture he said:

I always look forward to these games.

It’s no secret that I was an Arsenal supporter growing up, so this fixture is even bigger for me and especially given it involves two of the biggest teams in the country.

I hope I can step out onto the field.

In other injury news, United boss Louis van Gaal is expecting David de Gea to be fit for the Arsenal match:

I expect (David can return) because I saw the way he was today.

You can read the article on the Daily Mail website by clicking here.

Martial set to miss Arsenal game

Anthony Martial was pulled out of the starting line up shortly before the Midtjylland game after pulling up with a hamstring injury.

The young Frenchman was replaced by debutant Marcus Rashford who went on to score two goals helping United into the last 16 of the Europa League.

While the injury is not considered ‘heavy’ by boss, Lois van Gaal, Martial will be rested to prevent doing any further damage to his injury.

This could prove to be a huge loss for United if the likes of Memphis and Rashford don’t put in the same performance they did against Midtjylland. Although, the burden cannot rest too heavily on Rashford’s shoulders.

Read more on the injury here.

Luke Shaw given time off

Luke Shaw is given time off due to PSV tie and the full back being ‘fed up’ with rehabilitation routine.

A horror tackle from PSV Eindhoven’s Hector Moreno two months ago left Luke Shaw with a broken leg. The United youngster is not expected to play again until at least March 2016.

Luke Shaw is due for a scan on Friday to assess how the recovery is going.

Boss Louis van Gaal has given Luke Shaw time off and had this to say:

I think he is dealing with his injury very good. But now he is a little bit fed up with the daily routine so I give him, and also because of PSV, four days off.

I thought, why is he fed up? Maybe it is because of the PSV match and every player has to watch the game from the stadium, to support their colleagues.

I don’t think he will be here, but I don’t know. Maybe he surprises me.

Louis van Gaal also stressed how much Luke Shaw was missed by the club:

The first match was very disappointing, not only because of the result, but also because of the loss of Luke Shaw.

For me and for us he is a very important player. I said in advance that he would be the revelation of the season, because last season it was his adaptation season.

He was on his way to do that, and because of that I did not have to buy a left full-back because I had, for example, Daley Blind and also Marcos Rojo who could play at that position, and also Ashley Young.

I think I can manage the situation but still it is a big loss because he is, in my opinion, the best left-back of Manchester United.

Responding to a question asking if Luke Shaw could return this season:

I cannot answer that.

You have to be very cautious. With an injury like that it can be going very well but, one week it can be going very bad, and then he is months behind schedule.

He has been given four days off. On Friday he has a scan and we will know more about how the injury is going.

To read the full article on the Sky Sports website, click here.

Are you looking forward to Luke Shaw’s return? Do you think he has been missed by the team? Or is that a stupid question?! We would love to hear your thoughts below in the comments.

LVG Press Conference: Six Players could miss Watford game

During his Press Conference with MUTV at the AON sports complex on Friday, the reds manager Louis Van Gaal confirmed that six players could miss the away game against Watford this Saturday.

Manchester united manager Louis Van Gaal says Anthony martial and Wayne Rooney are among the absentees for the Watford game. Manager spoke on no. of issues including martial and Carrick’s injury, Wayne’s illness, Lingard’s England call up and Smalling’s outstanding performance this season.

To begin the press conference, Van Gaal said he has spoken to Bastian Schweinsteiger, Anthony martial and Morgan Schneiderlin after they played in the emotional friendly between England and France at Wembley Stadium. Though he didn’t mention anything about their discussion describing it as “private”, he expressed sympathy for the French people.

Furthermore he gave updates on injuries. He said that Rooney was ill following the international break. He also mentioned that Manchester united can solve these problems as they have multi-functional players. The manager also appreciated Chris “Mike” Smalling’s development this season. Smalling stands out as the best centre back in the Premier League this season and he has played a crucial role in building United’s solid defence.

Van Gaal also made it clear that Martial’s injury is not serious but he cannot play the away match against Watford this weekend. He gave an update about Carrick’s injury, saying “Michael is also not a heavy injury; he shall be playing much quicker than everybody has written.”

Antonia Valencia has undergone surgery and will not play at least for two months. Luke Shaw and Marouane Fellaini are also on the sidelines because of their injuries. Fellaini has not played since United’s 1-0 win over CSKA Moscow. He also mentioned that James Wilson could feature in the Watford fixture but not for the full 90 minutes as he does not have match rhythm.

If you want to read updates about van Gaal’s press conference, Read it here on Manchester United’s official blog.

Can Manchester United cope against Watford without Martial and Rooney? Let us know your opinion in the comments below.

Martial injury update

France International team Coach Didier Deschamps gave updates about Anthony martial’s injury which he picked up during Tuesday’s friendly match against England.

Anthony martial picked up a foot injury on Tuesday’s emotional friendly match between England and France, which France lost by 2-0. He forced two good saves out of Joe hart and Jack Butland before being substituted for Antoine Griezmann on 67 minutes.

There were several rumours about Martial’s injury in various newspapers. Some newspapers claimed that his injury was not serious and that he will be back for the Watford game. But the real status of injury is yet to be known.

Martial left the stadium on crutches. He was having some difficulty when he was substituted. The France manager said that he was in quite a bit of pain. According to him, it’s just a knock on Martial’s foot. Martial got a kick in the penalty area and from then on, he was in a bit of pain.

Meanwhile, Martial’s wife Samantha Martial has posted on her Instagram account that martial has no injury. Manchester united fans would be delighted if that’s the case. All ears to Van Gaal now for the pre-match conference on Friday. He may also provide an injury update on 34 year old defensive midfielder Michael Carrick.

What do you think of martial’s presence on the field on the field for reds ? Let us know in the comments below.

Valencia out for up to 5 months

Valencia injured his foot during the goalless Manchester derby last month.

It’s reported that the Manchester United winger could face five months on the sidelines as he recovers from his injury.

The club have not given a defined timescale for his recovery. However, Valencia himself has posted photos of his foot in bandages on Twitter, saying that he “came out well from the operation”.

It is claimed that the bone above his left foot was damaged during the match and the fact he did not come off straight away meant that more damage was done.

With Valencia often used as cover at right back, this will now limit Louis van Gaal’s options defensively. Something Manchester United have been used to in recent seasons.

To read the full report, visit the Guardian website by clicking here.