Monday 22 January 2018

Mkhitaryan set for chance to kick-start United career

Henrikh Mkhitaryan will be given a chance to re-establish himself at Manchester United after a disappointing start Photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images
Henrikh Mkhitaryan will be given a chance to re-establish himself at Manchester United after a disappointing start Photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images

Ian Whittell

Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Manchester United's £26m summer signing from Borussia Dortmund, could be handed the opportunity to reestablish himself in Jose Mourinho's plans in tonight's Europa League tie with Fenerbahce.

The Turkish side, who include former United striker Robin van Persie, visit Old Trafford with Mourinho balancing his squad's commitments in a week in which they drew at Liverpool on Monday and face a trip to his former club Chelsea on Sunday.

It appears to be the perfect chance for the Armenian midfielder to begin demonstrating his worth after a disappointing start to his career in English football.

Mkhitaryan (right) has started just one game for Mourinho - the derby defeat at home by Manchester City in the middle of last month, when he was substituted at half-time - and has been hampered since by a thigh injury. "He was injured for quite a long time," Mourinho said. "He has been training with the team without any limitation. Now he is fit and now it is time for him to go back to the levels we know he can achieve."

Mourinho was similarly vague over whether Wayne Rooney, the club captain who has lost his starting place for both club and country this month, would start against Fenerbahce. Rooney made his United debut against tonight's opponents in September 2004, scoring a hat-trick in a Champions League win, but his career is clearly at a crossroads some 12 years later.

"Wayne is working well, he is one of those responsible for the atmosphere for the players," Mourinho said. "He is positive, he is a good example. We count on him to start or be on the bench."

Van Persie, who scored 48 goals in three seasons at Old Trafford, is expected to start. "It will be special to play 'at home' (Old Trafford) in a great stadium with great fans against a great team," said the 33-year-old Dutchman. "It will be tough for us. United are the favourites, but you never know what will happen. In general I am looking forward to a nice evening and enjoying the whole experience."

The private plane carrying the Fenerbahce squad was forced to make an emergency landing in Budapest as pilots reported a loss of cabin pressure due to a crack in the cockpit window caused by a collision with a bird. United sent a message to their opponents on Twitter: "Wishing you a safe trip for the rest of your journey to Manchester. See you soon!"

Mourinho, meanwhile, insists he does not want teenage striker Marcus Rashford, to play in next summer's Under-21 European Championship if he is an established member of the senior England squad by that point.

Capped five times, by three England managers, Rashford will surely be a regular feature in the senior squad for the remainder of this season, and that will lead the United manager to argue that he should not be selected for the tournament in Poland next June. "We are in mid-October, the Championships will be in the summer," said Mourinho. "If the player becomes a regular in the 'A' national team, if you want to call it that, and established, then to say it is important for his development with the U-21s makes no sense.

"If he's an U-21 player in the national team, then he is an U-21 player and there is no discussion. But if he becomes a regular choice for Gareth Southgate in the first team, then we have to speak, because we don't want him going."

The only player whom Mourinho would confirm has a starting role tonight is England left-back Luke Shaw. Mourinho publicly criticised Shaw after last month's defeat at Watford, and the defender has not started since, although Shaw claimed he had taken the incident in his stride. "I said before I'm a grown man," he commented, "and I can take what the manager said. I'm still young and I need to take on board what he said and improve."

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