Zlatan Ibrahimovic may have enjoyed the bulk of the plaudits this season with 20 goals to his name this season, but there’s a strong argument that Manchester United’s biggest difference maker has actually been the less-heralded Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
For starters, the Red Devils’ record with and without the Armenian is an extremely compelling argument for his inclusion as the first name on the teamsheet.
In the 14 Premier League games where he’s featured, United have chalked up 29 points (2.07 per game), while they managed a comparatively paltry 16 in the 10 games he missed – including defeat at Watford and that 4-0 drubbing at Stamford Bridge.
But it’s the finer details which show how the inclusion – or exclusion – of Mkhitaryan from Jose Mourinho’s starting XI could well be the difference between making the top four or falling short for the third time in four seasons.
The former Borussia Dortmund star has maintained an incredible 84 per cent pass completion rate this season, while he’s also set up at least two chances in each of his last six Premier League games – creating a total of 17 opportunities in those half-dozen games.
He’s also establishing himself as one of the main goal threats outside of United’s established strikers. The 28-year-old has now netted five times already this season, with his blistering solo effort in Sunday’s 3-0 victory at Leicester City the latest in an array of impressive strikes.
Dynamic, confident and an excellent first-time passer of the ball, the Old Trafford outfit also have far more zip about their game when the Yerevan native is in the side.
Far more confident and successful in taking on a man than United’s other options on the wing, and more mobile than the likes of Wayne Rooney when utilised in an attacking midfield role, there’s no question he should be among the very first names on Mourinho’s teamsheet.
In recent times that has been the case, with an absence in the away EFL Cup game at Hull City (which United lost, incidentally) his only omission in the past six weeks.
However, he did fall foul of Mourinho’s rotation system for longer periods earlier in the season – a mistake the Portuguese gaffer must not repeat.
With the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool dropping points left, right and centre in recent weeks, United need to ensure they take advantage and force their way into the top four. And that means Mourinho refusing to tamper with the winning formula they have with Mkhitaryan in the side.
Next up for Man United is the visit of Watford to Old Trafford, with 1/4 for a home victory.
Meanwhile, there’s Evens on offer for the Red Devils to finish in the top four – a price which will soon look very generous if United and their Armenian talisman continue to shine.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing