Monday Verdict: Mkhitaryan’s revival and the part Jose played

Date published: Monday 12th December 2016 8:55

We applaud Jose Mourinho for handling Henrikh Mkhitaryan perfectly at Man Utd, urge Arsenal to sign Julian Draxler and discuss Leicester’s win over Pep Guardiola’s ‘shambolic’ Manchester City.


Mkhitaryan finally fulfilling early promise – and Jose deserves lots of credit

When Henrikh Mkhitaryan first signed for Manchester United in a £26.3m deal from Borussia Dortmund there were plenty – myself included – who thought the deal could prove Jose Mourinho’s most astute capture of the summer.

While Zlatan Ibrahimovic brought with him the winning mentality and charisma and Paul Pogba (on paper at least) brought that menace and domination to their midfield, it was the signing of the skilful Armenian which many felt could give United that certain little je ne sais quoi!

However, little went right for Mkhitaryan in his opening months at Old Trafford, with the player restricted to just three substitute appearances before seemingly being ‘thrown under the bus’ by his manager after being hauled off at half-time on his first Premier League start against Manchester City.

After that, all seemed to fall apart at the seams for Mkhitaryan as observers watched in bewilderment as the player failed to make a matchday squad for just short of two months.

In fact, things got so bad that officials at the player’s former club, Dortmund, were even asked about the possibility of re-signing him on loan in January.

Mourinho, however, remained unperturbed – staunchly insisting that the player would come good and just needed time to adjust to the physical demands and pace of the Premier League.

And it seems that not only was the United manager right, but he also handled the player’s introduction to the Premier League exceptionally well. For that, the United boss deserves plenty of credit.

The overriding emotion on Sunday after the 1-0 win over Spurs, quite simply, will have been relief. That’s only natural given how a recent spate of late surrenders had seen far too many points slip through the net. Observers had called them ‘un-United like’. And they were right.

But when the dust settles, United can take pleasure from not only seeing the job through this time, but also in ensuring their domination of a game finally bore the fruits it deserved.

And it’s no coincidence that their recent improvement has coincided with the ’emergence’ of Mkhitaryan – recent stats showing the player to be that key cog everyone expected him to be.

You can’t help but thinking either that Mkhitaryan is just getting started – and that there’s another 15-20% to come from the player – a frightening thought for those who face United in the coming weeks and months….

Wayne Rooney: Set for another afternoon on the United bench

The final word though for Wayne Rooney. As the sun rises on Mkhitaryan, it seems ever more likely that it’s setting on Rooney’s. No longer the preferred choice at centre forward thanks to Zlatan, the United skipper may have had designs on one of those three positions behind the Swede. However, with the Armenian not looking set for an extended run in the side, there’s surely no way back for the player.

Rooney remains just one goal shy of equaling Sir Bobby Charlton’s all-time scoring record at Manchester United. Should the player finally break the record before the transfer window shuts, what odds on the player leaving Old Trafford next month and making an emotional return to Everton….?



Man Utd v Spurs player ratings: Rojo the rock; Kane disappoints


Stones critics out in force – but Pep’s style is ‘killing’ defender

John Stones: Left exposed time and again


John Stones’ performance was quite rightly highlighted after Manchester City’s shambolic defeat at Leicester – and why wouldn’t it be given their defence looked about as useful as a chocolate fireguard at the King Power Stadium.

City spent £47.5m bringing the player to the club from Everton – and for that money you’d expect a player of that calibre, in the least, to be able to defend!

The stats don’t bode well for City either….

  • A Pep Guardiola side conceded four goals in a league for only the third time (Atletico Madrid 4-3 Barcelona in 2009, Wolfsburg 4-1 Bayern Munich in 2015).
  • Guardiola has seen his side concede three or more goals in back-to-back league games for the very first time as a manager.
  • The Blues found themselves three goals down at half-time in a Premier League game for the first time since being 3-0 down at the break against Liverpool in April 2011.
  • Only Crystal Palace, Hull and Sunderland (1) have kept fewer clean sheets than Man City in the Premier League this season (2).

John Stones: Not yet at his best

However, City can’t be entirely surprised. The player was in and out of the Everton side last season under Roberto Martinez, with his defensive shortcomings often seeing Phil Jagielka and Ramiro Funes Mori preferred to him in the Toffees’ backline.

I’d also argue, however, that Stones cannot be entirely blamed for City’s struggles. Indeed, I’d also argue that the style of football and the formation Pep Guardiola is playing is actually destroying his confidence and worse, killing his game.

Taking one look at City’s defensive shape at Leicester tells you all you need to know about the player’s struggles on Saturday. City started the match with a three-man defence, with Stones lined up alongside Bacary Sagna and Aleksander Kolarov. Pablo Zabaleta and Kevin De Bruyne were deployed as wing-backs, meaning three of that five-man unit at the King Power were playing in positions completely alien to them. No wonder Jamie Vardy and Co were licking their lips….

John Stones: Faces the wrath of Roy Keane

It’s widely known that Leicester like to absorb pressure and hit teams on the break, often with a long ball over the top. So why Guardiola picked the side he did – and left Stones so hopelessly exposed, is beyond me.

Time and again, Stones was left covering both the middle position and the left-hand area of the central defence withr the wandering Kolarov too often going walkabout. While Stones must take the blame for the fourth goal City conceded – an excellent finish from Vardy by the way – I don’t think it’s fair to blame him entirely for City’s shambolic showing.

In fact, given the way Chelsea are showing how to successfully operate with a three-man backline, one does wonder if Stones is ruing his decision to snub the Blues of south-west London for the Blues of Manchester.


TEAMtalk features this weekend

Anfield Talking Points: Klopp’s No 1 dilemma; West Ham’s Iron resistance

Big clubs would be wise to look at Baggies’ rock Jonny Evans

Leicester v Man City Player Ratings: Deadly duo return; Stones a shambles



Could Draxler provide the key to keeping Ozil and Sanchez?

Julian Draxler: sees Wolfsburg as 'stepping stone'

It’s little surprise to see Arsenal linked once again with a move for Germany playmaker Julian Draxler. The player has exactly the right attributes to play for Arsenal and would, you’d imagine, slot effortlessly into their ethos.

The word in Germany that a huge falling-out with his club Wolfsburg means they’re willing to sell the player when the transfer window opens next month, and there’ll no doubt be a queue of clubs jockeying for positions to sign him.

But while a possible swoop for Draxler might not be top of Arsenal’s agenda right now – that mantle falls into the ongoing contract negotiations with Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez – would the Gunners actually be making a shrewd move by switching tact to Draxler instead?

Alexis Sanchez & Mesut Ozil: Have two years left on Arsenal deals

I’m not saying the Gunners should abandon plans to try and tie down their star duo – far from it – but rather than put all their eggs into those baskets, Arsenal could lay down one huge signal of intent to the duo by bringing in Draxler to play alongside them.

Arsene Wenger hinted this week that the future of the duo will lie beyond just chucking a huge bounty of cash their way, so by moving for Draxler, here in lies that perfect opportunity to signal their intent.

Besides, a front four of Draxler, Sanchez, Ozil and Theo Walcott? Yes please….

Foxes back on the prowl

Leicester City: Champions League Group G winners

This season has not been a fun ride in the Premier League for champions Leicester. Before a vital win against Manchester City on Saturday, the Foxes were looking perilously over their shoulder at the drop zone. In fact, we even discussed their demise, or ‘reverting to type’ as we put it, as recently as last week.

Having had just three wins and 17 goals from their first 14 games, people were beginning to question whether it was possible that Leicester could be playing in the second tier just two seasons after winning the big prize.

In Europe however it has been a completely different story. Confirmed group winners after five games, with just one goal conceded, and suddenly the biggest club competition in world football was becoming Ranieri’s comfort blanket.

Claudio Ranieri: Braves the elements at Leicester

It all fell apart in that last group match at Porto, but ultimately the progress was already assured, and now Leicester can look forward to knockout Champions League football. Who’d have thought that two years ago?

In terms of their league form, Ranieri has to hope that no longer having the tough schedule of European football proves to be a big factor, because the Foxes still need points to achieve safety, let alone respectability.

It will not be easy though, with four games to play between December 13 and December 31. After a grueling start to the season in terms of schedule, the Christmas period beckons, and an already thin squad will be pushed to the max.

Still, it was nice to have the champs back, even if it was just for one night.

And by the way – anyone who saw our video this week (below) – we hope you all had money on a Vardy hat-trick at a best-priced 66/1?!


The house that Dyche built

Jeff Hendrick: Opened the scoring

Funny old team Burnley. Soft touches on their travels, but My God, pretty damn hard to beat on their own patch. In fact, it’s fair to say that Burnley are a team that are going to have to rely entirely on their home form to ensure survival.

It sounds ridiculous, but when you start looking at the facts it becomes glaringly apparent: Burnley can only play well at Turf Moor.

With a league-worst away record that includes just one point picked up from six matches, it’s clear to see that the Clarets are yet to strike fear into opponents on the road in their quest for Premier League survival and ultimately stability.

Home form is a completely different situation for Sean Dyche’s men. They sit fifth in that particular ranking, with five wins and 16 points from their opening nine games at Turf Moor this season. Stop and think about that one second….

Sean Dyche: The old Burnley are back

Burnley have picked up points this season from Manchester United, Liverpool and Everton in some impressive performances, and that’s not to mention the fact they went toe-to-toe with both Arsenal and Manchester City for large parts of games.

Their next four games are a perfect indicator of where their priorities must be under their current form. Burnley travel to London two games running to play West Ham and Tottenham, before returning home to face Middlesbrough and Sunderland.

The Lancashire club have got to be looking for six points, and it isn’t difficult to see where they will be targeting those from..


And finally….

Wembley: Tottenham could play home games there

Do you know how many toilets Wembley Stadium has?

TEAMtalk’s five-man quiz team certainly didn’t when we were done on the tie-break question of a charity football quiz on Sunday evening, held to raise money for Teenage Cancer Trust at Leeds Student Union.

With a 20 team line-up, finishing in joint 1st was one hand encouraging; on the other it was disappointing to see our hopes slip down the pan on such a ‘turdy’ question. It is all about the charity though….

For the record, however…. Our guess: 6,666; our rivals’ guess: 2,000; the answer…..2,618.

You can only imagine the language…..


By James Marshment and Oliver Fisher

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