Monday Verdict: Liverpool wrong over Van Dijk; Man Utd’s new MVP

Date published: Monday 11th September 2017 7:18

We explain why Henrikh Mkhitaryan is fast becoming undroppable for Manchester United, look at Liverpool’s one-dimensional transfer policy and look at how Leeds United have already taken the Championship by storm this season – all in Monday Verdict.

MKHITARYAN FAST BECOMING MANCHESTER UNITED’S MOST VITAL PLAYER

Much has been made, and quite rightly, of Philippe Coutinho’s importance to Liverpool. He’s the man that makes them tick and probably Liverpool’s best bet of success this season – and that’s even when taking his Barcelona distractions into consideration.

A short distance down the M62, there’s another creative player in Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who is fast making himself as important to Manchester United as Coutinho is to Liverpool. Yet for some reason, the Armenian is still not getting the credit – outside of Old Trafford at least – that he deserves.

Jose Mourinho brought Mkhitaryan to the club last summer and after making Manchester United fans wait to see a glimpse of him in full flow, we were treated to flashes of his brilliance last season. The scorpion kick goal against Sunderland was testimony to that ability.

But there’s far more to his game than that and the wizardry skills of the Armenian are starting to weave their magic  on a regular basis this season.

So far this season, the former Borussia Dortmund star has played 331 of the 360 Premier League minutes Manchester United have completed this season. And in that time, Mkhitaryan has already created four goals. In addition to that he’s posted an average of 1.8 shots per game, played 3.8 key passes per game (that’s passes that lead to a scoring opportunity) and completed an average of 1.8 dribbles per game.

And if you were still unsure how he compares to Coutinho – take a look at the above graphic!

His passing ain’t too shabby either, though the 86.7% completion rate is only what you’d expect from a top-level player.

There’s been lots of talk about how the signing of Nemanja Matic has freed up Paul Pogba and given the club’s record signing licence to roam this season. While true, you’d argue it’s Mkhitaryan who is benefitting the most from the Serbian’s holding role in Mourinho’s side.

His pass for Romelu Lukaku’s strike against Stoke was as effortless as it was sublime. It was also typical of the midfielder’s confidence at the moment.

Much is made of Lukaku’s goals and David De Gea’s saves and both are quite rightly key cogs for Mourinho. But the growing influence of Mkhitaryan can no longer be ignored and he’s probably as important to United’s prospects this season as any other player.

 

LEEDS MAKING SAIZ-ABLE WAVES UNDER NEW BOSS CHRISTIANSEN

Thomas Christiansen was nothing more than an unknown in this country a few short months ago. The Danish, Spaniard boss arrived at Leeds in the summer as what appeared the under-whelming replacement for Garry Monk, who had decided that his chances of a return to the Premier League were better served at Middlesbrough.

But Christiansen has very quickly made his mark at Elland Road and freed Leeds from the shackles and one-dimensional approach the club had under Monk.

I say one dimensional, because very rarely did the former Swansea boss offer a Plan B. Granted, Plan A – a certain Chris Wood – was hugely effective for the Whites last season.

But beyond the goals of Wood, Leeds didn’t offer a lot.

The powerful New Zealander – already looking a steal for Burnley, by the way at £16million – netted 27 league goals last season. Leeds’ next highest scorer netted six, albeit with three players sharing the landmark. All in all, only 12 different players netted in the league for Leeds last season.

This season, they already have 10 different league goalscorers, with more of an emphasis placed on the side as a whole, rather than the merits of one player. Their attack is far more fluid too. Samuel Saiz – a Spanish signing from Huesca – has proved a revelation; his quick feet and invention asking lots of questions of their opponents.

The former Atletico Madrid loanee announced his arrival with a hat-trick in the League Cup. He’s not looked back since then and already looks a real talent.

He’s not the only one though, with Ezgjan Alioski, the rejuvenated Kemar Roofe and old master Pablo Hernandez all providing invention behind some very exciting attacking options in Pierre-Michel Lasogga, Jay-Roy Grot, Caleb Ekuban and Pawel Cibicki.

But it’s not just their attackers that are thriving. The bedrock to their success has been a watertight defence, which has now kept five successive clean sheets. Furthermore, they’re yet to concede at Elland Road this season and having limited their opposition to a running total of just eight efforts on target in the six matches they’ve played so far. Impressive stuff!

And the incredible stats this season just keep on coming….

The Whites face Birmingham at Elland Road on Tuesday night and such is the feel-good factor around Elland Road that it’s difficult to imagine anything other than a home win.

And managing expectations and keeping the players focused will arguably be Christiansen’s toughest task this season if Leeds are finally set to end a 14-year sabbatical from the Premier League.

But with momentum building, there is already a real feeling that this could finally be Leeds’ year.

If Monk stirred the sleeping giant, Christiansen could be the man to well and truly rouse it….

 

LIVERPOOL’S VAN DIJK OR BUST STRATEGY TO HAUNT CLUB

Going down to 10 men is hard enough, but when it’s against a free-flowing Manchester City side, who are already a goal to the good, then you know your cards are marked.

And while concerns have been raised by our readers over Jurgen Klopp’s inability to change his system in the light of the side going down to 10 men, the greater problem for me, is the club’s bizarre transfer strategy over Virgil van Dijk.

The Reds went all out to sign the Dutchman this summer, but Southampton’s determination to keep him saw the star forced – extremely reluctantly it has to be said – to stay where he was.

But while they met a very firm brick wall in Saints over Van Dijk, surely Klopp and his staff should have moved on to their secondary targets?

With Dejan Lovren unfit to start against Man City, the Reds were forced to select Ragnar Klavan against the likes of Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero. The Estonian defender is a good honest pro, but Liverpool standard? Most definitely not.

And with Klavan regularly targeted by City, the failure not to sign an alternative to Van Dijk was brutally exposed by Pep Guardiola’s merciless side.

And while Liverpool’s defence has always been their Achilles heel – it’s infinitely worse with Klavan in the side. I can understand Klopp being prepared to wait to land Van Dijk, but I’m completely at a loss to fathom why they didn’t try and sign an alternative.

 

SPURS SIMPLY DELICIOUS – NOW IF ONLY THEY COULD PLAY LIKE THAT AT WEMBLEY

The performance of the weekend in the Premier League for me was not Man City’s 5-0 romp against Liverpool, but Tottenham, who were simply breathtaking in their dismantling of Everton at Goodison.

With Christian Eriksen, Harry Kane and Dele Alli imperious, Spurs produced their best performance of the season so far against Ronald Koeman’s expensively assembled side.

All they need to do now is replicate that kind of performance at their temporary home of Wembley. Easier said than done, granted, but perhaps Spurs should try and use the mentality of playing at the national stadium as an away tie, rather than having the burden of it being a home match they simply have to win….

Either way, an improvement will be expected when they tackle Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday and Swansea on Saturday evening…

 

By James Marshment

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