Henrikh Mkhitaryan's integration into the Manchester United set-up has been far from straightforward, however the green shoots of promise are growing quickly, following his game winning, man of the match display against a formidable Tottenham side.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s summer arrival at Old Trafford was celebrated by fans, players and Mourinho alike, his new boss stating: “I believe he will make an impact on the team very quickly”.
Lauded as the last season’s assist king in Europe, notching 32 killer passes, he seemed a snip at £27m, however for anyone watching the early season Manchester derby will have noticed, the normally razor sharp whippet was wallowing and lethargic.
It was as if he resided on the back foot. He was hauled off at half time in a game United ended up losing, resulting in his manager to reassess his pre-season plaudits, suggesting the Armenian was “overawed” with the occasion and that he was off the required pace in the Premier League.
An injury playing for his Armenia then ruled him out until late November, on the rebound from which he’s been handled very carefully and purposefully by Mourinho. Clamouring fans wanted the player back in the ranks to help breathe some life into an ailing league and Europa Cup challenge, incredulity poured in from all media sources, screaming with bloodshot eyes that Mkhitaryan be re-installed.
Things the midfielder had liked on twitter, ‘cryptic insinuations’ and backroom source-driven news peppered the football press, who were seemingly building him up as if he were to spark a mutiny and grasp the mantle from Mourinho himself.
However the Portuguese must be given all the left over praise from that directed at Mkhitaryan in recent weeks. The way he’s re-integrated the player and batted away the aforementioned nonsense has been calming for the player, who it must be noted took time to settle at his previous clubs Shakhtar Donetsk and Borussia Dortmund.
Deciding against relaunching him in the high intensity of the league, Mourinho bled him in gradually, through a mixture of starts in Cups and Europa League, and then sub appearances in the league. With that he has now started and scored in his last two games. All the while it becoming obvious how organically he fits into the side and why Mourinho was so happy to have him in the first place.
He gives the team so much more balance and cohesion, flitting intuitively between the flanks and also surrounding Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He gives short sharp passes and runs in behind the defence, which is one of the few attributes the Swede does not possess.
United have often built and structured attacks of real quality and innovation this season, but have failed to notch up easier goals. Those passes in behind to an onrushing attacker who’s left one-on-one with the keeper, the like of which Mkhitaryan expertly despatched on Sunday.
There is a growing sense around Old Trafford that the former Dortmund star is the last piece in the puzzle that can finally drag three points from the recent run of impotent draws.
The game against Tottenham at the weekend was his most accomplished thus far, partly because it was in such a big league game, thus invariably meaning more than the other fixtures, but also for the way he dictated proceedings and along with Ander Herrera, set a high intensity agenda for the game.
In fact the game's first chance fell as Mkhitaryan received the ball on his chest, with two onrushing defenders approaching from behind. With a deft glance of his chest to the right, a swivel and a prod with the outside of his boot, he flummoxed the pair of them and instantly United were bearing down on goal, only to be thwarted by Hugo Lloris after Paul Pogba pulled the trigger.
Such was Mkhitaryan’s awareness, he couldn’t have possibly 100% known where the two players behind were. It was like he’d snuck a peek at his adversaries side in a game of battleships, and neatly sunk his aircraft carrier in one devastating move.
His first intention is to spring an attack and one with real pace. It’s something Juan Mata can be trusted to do, and the vision and timing of runs is similar, however the Armenian would blast the Spaniard in a foot race, and there’s the added dimension he gives.
Indeed he scorched past the entire Spurs defence to score, and even past Danny Rose in the dying moments of the game on Sunday, and Rose is regarded as one of the quickest in the league.
And in that duel came the next story around Mkhitaryan. In guiding past Rose, the English left-back made sure the United attack stopped here and brought down Mkhitaryan, inadvertently landing and twisting the ankle of his counterpart.
Mourinho stated: “Maybe out until Boxing Day” which is in three games' time in the thick and fast fixture period in the EPL. It will be interesting to see how the team copes without him, given how quickly they’ve enveloped him this time around.
Those games away to Crystal Palace and West Bromwich aren’t the toughest in the league, but even with victories in those games, you’d bet Jose will be licking his lips at getting him back in on Boxing Day to drive momentum into January – and, if Henrikh Mkhitaryan didn’t mind, for the remainder of the season.