Sunday 20 August 2017

£26m Mkhitaryan unable to cope with pressure of big games - Mourinho

Henrikh Mkhitaryan has fallen out of favour at Manchester United Photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images
Henrikh Mkhitaryan has fallen out of favour at Manchester United Photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images

James Ducker

Jose Mourinho has revealed that he omitted Henrikh Mkhitaryan from his squad to face Arsenal because he felt the out-of-favour Manchester United midfielder wouldn't cope with the pressure in another worrying sign of the player's ongoing struggles.

The United manager said he intends to involve Mkhitaryan against Feyenoord in Thursday's Europa League at Old Trafford, which he hopes will prove less of a pressure-cooker environment for the fragile Armenia captain.

Mourinho conceded that Mkhitaryan was frustrated and unhappy at still being frozen out but was working hard to adjust to the demands of English football and representing a club of United's stature by keeping his own counsel and buckling down.

Yet the Portuguese's frank admissions about Mkhitaryan's ability to cope with the pressure of playing for United raise more troubling questions about a player who has barely figured since arriving from Borussia Dortmund in a £26.3m deal almost five months ago.

"I told him 'This (Arsenal) was not the game for you, I don't think you need 10 or 20 minutes from the bench, I think you need a good game and you need to either start or if not to come (on) for the second half'," Mourinho said of last Saturday's 1-1 draw that left United nine points adrift of Premier League leaders Chelsea.

"He needs less pressure and better conditions for him to express his qualities. Yes (he is getting closer). I told him today that he is going to be involved in the game against Feyenoord.

"He is trying. Obviously he is not happy but he is transforming his frustration in a good way, which is [to] close the mouth and work hard and try to adapt."

Mkhitaryan has not featured in the Premier League since being withdrawn at half-time of United's 2-1 defeat at home by Manchester City on September 10, when Mourinho accused the player of being overwhelmed by the occasion.

The Armenian picked up a thigh injury in that game which kept him sidelined for a month but he has been included in only one 18-man squad since returning to fitness, when he was introduced as the third substitute in the 2-1 defeat by Fenerbahce in Istanbul.

Mkhitaryan was not the only United player Mourinho criticised after that game but the manager made clear that he needed to see much more from the 27-year-old.

The Armenian has been included in just six of United's 19 squads this season, including the first five games of the campaign.

Mourinho had claimed upon signing him in July that he felt he would "make an impact on the team very quickly as his style of play is suited to the Premier League".

Instead, the United manager has encountered a player whom he believed would be stronger mentally but Mourinho is prepared to bide his time in an attempt to coax the best out of last season's Bundesliga player of the year.

Mkhitaryan scored 23 goals and claimed 32 assists for Dortmund last term but senior officials at the German club are not thought to be too surprised by his difficulties at United. While he is a very gifted player, there was a view among the hierarchy at Dortmund that Mkhitaryan sometimes went missing in the biggest matches.

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