Jose Mourinho parked the bus at Anfield again this week.
As a result, few players on either side emerged with any credit at all. But United fans will have been particularly worried by the lacklustre performance of Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Manchester United’s main play-maker was anonymous throughout.
Since arriving at the start of last season Mkhitaryan’s form has been patchy. Having endured a difficult start to his time at the club – Mourinho left him out of the side for a long spell with no explanation – United fans stood by him. They could see that he had quality.
His talent was obvious. Technically gifted, quick over the ground, the numbers he produced in his final season at Borussia Dortmund had United fans salivating. In his 52 appearances for Dortmund, he scored 23 goals and made 32 assists for his teammates. Exceptional stats in anyone’s book.
Any player arriving in the Premier League from another league can take time to settle in. Nevertheless, Mkhitaryan’s debut campaign didn’t live up to expectations. He managed just four goals and a single assist. Every United fan expected more this season and the Armenian hit the ground hitting.
He notched up five assists in United’s opening three league games. United shot out of the blocks and Mkhitaryan was central to their impressive start.
His performance against Liverpool was an indication of just how badly his form has dipped. Some people will point out that Liverpool was United’s first real test of the season and that with Mourinho’s cautious approach United’s attackers were bound to struggle.
But in the previous league game – a 4-0 victory over Crystal Palace – Mkhitaryan had one shot on goal, created just one chance, only played four successful forward passes in the opposition’s half and had a pass completion rate of just 58%. Such a poor performance in such a comfortable win should have set alarm bells ringing.
His five assists came in those first three league games against West Ham, Swansea and Leicester. He also made 33 successful forward passes in the opposition’s half in those games compared to 24 in the five league games since. Making such a blistering start to the season has made Mkhitaryan a marked man for opposition managers. But if he is to be considered a success at the club he will have to work his magic despite the close attention of his markers.
Some suggested the reason Mourinho left the Armenian out of the side last season was because he wasn’t quite up to the physical rigours of the Premier League. At times over the last couple of games, this has looked the case again. He can be pushed off the ball too easily at times. When he looks sharp he avoids engaging in those physical battles with a drop of the shoulder or some quick feet.
Has starting every league and European game so far this season has taken its toll on a player whose physical capabilities were questioned just last season?
With massive league matches against Spurs and Chelsea in the coming weeks and Paul Pogba out injured, United badly need Mkhitaryan’s creativity. Surrendering any more points like they did at Anfield last week will make it almost impossible to catch Pep Guardiola’s rampant Man City side.
Stephen Vaughan, Pundit Arena