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Mkhitaryan shows Lindelof that Mourinho can be as patient as he is ruthless

10:30 GMT+3 26/08/2017
Mkhitaryan, Mourinho, Man Utd
After a tough start to life at Manchester United, the Armenian has become one of the Red Devils' key players and has begun 2017-18 superbly


This time last year Henrikh Mkhitaryan was a Manchester United substitute and about to go through a very testing period during which any kind of first-team involvement was a godsend.

After turning in an off-colour performance in the derby loss to Manchester City in September, he would not get another league start for three months as Jose Mourinho saw fit to take him away from the spotlight and allow him to assimilate in his own time.

“At the beginning, we had some difficulties,” explained Mkhitaryan to the BBC in February. “It’s not very easy because you know when you have a new manager you have to try to adapt yourself to him, to the team, to the training session, to the game.

“But, at that time, even when I wasn’t playing, I always had a smile on my face because if I would be sad or if I would be mad, nothing would help me. That’s why I was just being patient, waiting for my time. I was sure that my time would come and I would have one more chance.”

And boy did his opportunity arrive. During the second half of 2016-17, Mkhitaryan was a key feature of the United line-up and he even top-scored in the club’s run to Europa League glory in May, with six goals in 11 continental appearances. Every time United needed a goal or a telling contribution, the Armenian stepped up.

The embryonic new season has seen an even greater brand of football from Mkhitaryan, with his performances in the much-coveted No.10 position helping to lead his side to successive 4-0 wins to begin the campaign. After teeing up Romelu Lukaku and Anthony Martial for goals against West Ham on opening day, he superbly fed Lukaku for another at Swansea before laying on one more for Paul Pogba.

Mkhi 6/5 to score vs Leicester

In his sometimes-difficult first term as a United player, Mkhitaryan was credited with only a single league assist. His exploits so far mean he already has four times as many in 2017-18, and although Lukaku, Pogba and Martial have taken larger shares of the credit in some quarters, there can be no doubting that Mkhitaryan has been one of the major factors behind United’s phenomenal start.

For many, his current vein of form is what was expected of him a year ago, but his initial troubles were nothing new. The 28-year-old also struggled in his debut season with previous club Borussia Dortmund before kicking on and showing the true Mkhitaryan. And Mourinho arguably deserves great credit for identifying the need to give the No.22 the time and space to attune to English football in his own way.

Twelve months on, another new boy has been kept out of the firing line for now. Victor Lindelof arrived in the early part of the summer transfer window from Benfica but has yet to be handed a Premier League debut as Mourinho favours Eric Bailly and Phil Jones at the heart of his defence.

The manager has again put this down to the centre-back’s need to acclimatise, and while Lindelof could well feature against Basel in United’s first Champions League game due to the suspensions of the current first-choice duo, there is clearly no rush on Mourinho’s part to throw the Swede into the action after an unconvincing pre-season on the field.

But the experiences of Mkhitaryan will serve as great solace to Lindelof, with the attacker now virtually undroppable in the current climate. And his reversal of fortunes for the better can only be good news for Manchester United and their fans.

His pace and poise on the ball, the ability to shift a pass with either foot as well as go past a man, Mkhitaryan has the sort of qualities few players in recent Premier League history have boasted. And now that he is absolutely flying, United look a far more complete outfit.

Lukaku, Pogba et al might get more headlines, but Mkhitaryan could be every bit as vital if United are to seriously challenge for the title in 2017-18.