With Henrikh Mkhitaryan Struggling For Form, Manchester United Are Crying Out For A Reliable Playmaker
Since Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s form has plummeted just over a month ago, Manchester United’s performances have also dropped dramatically and the amount of chances being created are minimal.
José Mourinho has a problem on his hands, given the lack of creativity currently on offer from his playmakers and midfielders. Paul Pogba has been a huge miss for Manchester United, but that does not mean that no one else in the current squad cannot step up to the plate and offer some form of ingenuity.
Against Liverpool, Tottenham and Chelsea, all direct rivals, Manchester United were uninspiring and predominantly sat back, waiting for their opponent to make a mistake for the Red Devils to hone in on and punish them for. However, only against Spurs did this actually work, where they won by a narrow margin of 1-0.
Against Jürgen Klopp and Antonio Conte’s teams, which resulted in a draw and a loss, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, the creative influence of the team, came up short as he has done all month and was a bystander throughout the game. There is a reason Romelu Lukaku is floundering at the moment, and that is because there is not enough chances being created, nor is the ball being played into his regularly enough.
In every title-winning team, there is a nucleus of creativity beaming out of the team. For Manchester City, this season, that looks like it is Kevin De Bruyne. The Belgian has been spectacular all season-long, and his form does not appear to be dipping any time soon. He has skated past defences while also delivering the most delicious through-balls and passes to his teammates.
Manchester United, however, do not possess a player of De Bruyne’s quality. Or they do, but he remains on the sidelines through injury. Without Pogba, United’s attacking influence sets to zero and it must be a huge worry for Mourinho. Mkhitaryan and Juan Mata, who was cut from the match day squad against Chelsea, have been irregular in their performances and have failed to match the standards of their across-town rival counterparts.
What the Red Devils so desperately need is an offensive midfielder that is consistent in his level of performance, and can also take Man United to the next level. Mesut Özil’s name has been touted around, including behind closed doors at Old Trafford, but there are serious questions to be answered about his anonymity in the ‘bigger’ games, a problem Mourinho could do without.
Against Liverpool: 44 (Coutinho 68)
Against Tottenham: 49 (Eriksen 88)
Against Chelsea: 28 (Hazard 72)
In Manchester United’s last game, there was a distinct difference in the Red Devils’ attacking players’ stats compared to those of Chelsea’s.
In 87 minutes, Eden Hazard had 72 touches, three shots on-target and completed four successful dribbles. In Mkhitaryan’s 62 minutes, he only managed to touch the ball 28 times, complete one successful dribble and could not even take a shot at all, let alone one on-target.
The stats are damning when contrasting what is supposed to be United’s attacking creator to Chelsea’s. There was a reason the Blues were attacking wave after wave, and it was down to the brilliance of Hazard. Manchester United just do not seem to have the same quality in the final third as the other teams.
Against Liverpool and Tottenham, United’s two other games against top six opposition, Mkhitaryan only managed to touch the ball 44 and 49 times. Comparing that with Philippe Coutinho, 68, and Christian Eriksen, 88, it is simply not good enough to have United’s main source of creativity out of the picture and not directly involved.
Without Mkhitaryan influencing the game, Lukaku is therefore left out and is isolated up front on his own. He has made runs down the channels and in-behind, but because the playmaker has not had the ball at his feet as often as he needs to have, there is nothing for Lukaku.
The return of Pogba will help put a stamp on United’s midfield and they will start to dictate and dominate games more often; but it is a worry that Mkhitaryan is a passenger in the ‘bigger’ games, when they so desperately need everyone playing at their full potential if they are to catch Manchester City.