Manchester United play-maker Henrikh Mkhitaryan put in another hugely insipid display in his side’s disappointing 1-0 loss to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last Saturday.
Sadly for fans of the Red Devils this level of performance did not come as a surprise and has very much become the norm and not the exception when it comes to the Armenia international.
The 28-year-old started the season like a house on fire notching five assists in his first three Premier League appearances. Since then however his form has been in steady decline with the amount of key passes and chances created for team-mates becoming almost non-existent.
For all the stick United manager Jose Mourinho has received over the last month or so if your number 10, who is supposed to be link between midfield and attack, cannot pass the ball to his team-mates, consistently dribbles down blind alleys and does everything with a complete lack of conviction you are going to struggle as an attacking force.
Mkhitaryan is performing like a player who has lost all faith in his own ability to effect games at the highest level and his facial expression, that of a lost puppy, when being substituted at Stamford Bridge screamed of somebody who simply wanted to be put out of their misery.
There was no anger, frustration or disappointment in the Armenian’s reaction to being hauled off by his manager, just a look of resignation that he had once again come up short in a high-profile game.
Those who follow the Bundesliga closely will not be overly surprised by Mkhitaryan’s struggles. In his first two seasons under Jurgen Klopp at Borussia Dortmund he found it difficult to replicate the form he had shown during his time in the Ukranian League with Shaktar Donetsk.
By all accounts Mkhitaryan is a complex and sensitive character who lacks conviction in his own ability at times. When Thomas Tuchel replaced Klopp as Dortmund manager he immediately set about working on these mentality issues in order to coax the best out of the talented-attacker.
The German coach worked closely with the player and asked him to study a famous sports psychology book named “The Inner Game Of Tennis,” by Timothy Gallway.
Tuchel’s decision to concentrate on the mental side of the player’s game paid off spectacularly with Mkhitaryan going on to net 23 goals and provide 24 assists in the 2015/2016 season which ultimately earned him a big-money move to Manchester United.
The general feeling amongst the Dortmund hierarchy however was that although the 28-year-old is a phenomenal player on his day he needs a lot of attention and the perfect environment in which to thrive.
For want of a better word, Mkhitaryan basically needs to be mollycoddled to perform at his maximum, but unfortunately at a club the size of Manchester United this is a luxury that very few players will be afforded.
It is actually surprising that his manager Jose Mourinho has continued to pick the player during his funk in form. The Portuguese coach is famed for his ruthlessness with underperforming stars and has rarely suffered fools gladly throughout his career, so it says something about the lack of options United’s manager feels he has in that area of the pitch that Mkhitaryan is still being picked week-in-week-out.
This run of below-par performances can surely not last much longer and the next few games seem to be a make-or-break period in the ex-Dortmund man’s Old Trafford career.
United fans will be devastated that the talented play-maker is struggling so badly as most had high hopes for the player when he arrived at the club in the summer of 2016 and expected to see a repeat of his 2015/2016 Bundesliga form in the Premier League.
The most frustrating thing however, is that this is not a problem with talent. Mkhitaryan has all the technical and physical attributes required to succeed in the Premier League. Instead, it seems to be a lack of belief in his own ability that is holding the 28-year-old back from being the star we can all clearly see he could be.
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