Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s Man-of-the-Match display for Manchester United against Leicester City on Sunday provided further evidence of his growing acclimatisation to the Premier League.
The mercurial Armenian brought a hitherto tepid game to life with a wonderful solo goal just before the break at the King Power Stadium, showing the poise, balance and acceleration that make him such an exciting talent.
Having being asked to shift from a wide position into the hole behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic early in the game, the 28-year-old also provided an assist for Juan Mata by executing a delightful one-two with the Spaniard early in the second half.
Mkhitaryan has started United’s last six league games, suggesting Jose Mourinho is satisfied with his summer signing’s ongoing adaptation to English football and his evolving United team.
Many fans had hoped to see Micki involved more regularly earlier in the season, while the press gleefully postulated that his continued absence from the teamsheet was leading to unrest between player and manager.
Henrikh himself poured cold water on that in December and Mourinho reiterated the point at his post-match press conference on Sunday.
“Sometimes the best way to protect a player is not to play them,” the boss told the assembled journalists. “In your chair, your perspective is if a player is not playing, a manager is disturbing him – but it is not true. Sometimes we don’t play players and we protect them and Micki is one of these cases – he was being protected.
“He is adapting and I can see not just what you see – you see the magic things he can do on the pitch – but I can see other things that I want to see and Micki is playing very well.”
The fact is that virtually nobody, not even the most clued-up fan or well-connected journalist, truly knows what is going on behind the scenes at a football club. We can’t read minds – all we can do is see how a player performs in the small window to the world that is a 90-minute football match and base our opinions on that. But there’s so much more going on.
Mourinho signed Mkhitaryan last summer because he knew all about his game-changing qualities, so if he didn’t pick him in the early stages of the campaign, he had his reasons. It’s the same for any of his team selections from week to week.
The manager knows best. His track record speaks for itself and while United may not be back at the summit of English football just yet, you can be sure that he and his coaching staff are working very hard behind closed doors at the Aon Training Complex to change that. We as fans should put our faith in it.