Saturday 24 March 2018

Mourinho reveals Mkhitaryan struggling to cope physically

The picture looks bleak although Mourinho insists he still has faith in Mkhitaryan. Photo: PA Wire
The picture looks bleak although Mourinho insists he still has faith in Mkhitaryan. Photo: PA Wire

Ian Whittell

Jose Mourinho has explained Henrikh Mkhitaryan's mysterious absence from the Manchester United first-team picture and confessed for the first time that the £26 million summer signing is struggling to cope with life in the Premier League.

The 27-year-old Armenian midfielder, the Bundesliga player of the season last year, has played just 104 minutes of league football this season and also battled against a thigh injury in recent weeks.

But he has been over his physical problems for some time only to find his manager unwilling to throw him into the fray with Mkhitaryan failing to even make the bench for the midweek League Cup tie with Manchester City.

The picture looks bleak although Mourinho insists he still has faith in Mkhitaryan and rubbished reports that he might be prepared to allow the Premier League's first Armenian leave the club in the January transfer window.

"Some players, with their profile, they are adapted to come and play, some others they need more time," said Mourinho. "Time to feel the intensity and the aggression, the game without the ball, the competitiveness.

"Many times players come from different countries. The style of football is different and the reality is different for sure in terms of competitiveness. There's no other country where it doesn't matter the team you play against, you have to play at the highest level. If you don't you have no chance. Mikhi needs time to become the top player he can be."

Mkhitaryan has not been involved with Mourinho's first team since the start of September when he lasted just 45 minutes of a dispiriting derby loss at home to City.

But, in an attempt to inspire Mkhitaryan, Mourinho drew on his own personal experiences, with Chelsea and Real Madrid, to offer him examples of players who also struggled to adapt to new surroundings.

"Willian, he arrived at Chelsea and had problems to play," said Mourinho. "He went through a process then after he became a top player, then the next season he became absolutely phenomenal and still is. When (Angel) Di Maria arrived at Real Madrid he also had to learn a lot about his game and a new reality.

"Sometimes it happens - sometimes with defenders but it's easier for them. For attacking players sometimes they arrive and go straight to success. Other times it takes a little more time.

"In Mikhi's case the process was interrupted by an injury that kept him out for about a month. To be out for a month in this process and then be fit but not fit to play you have to go through a process of getting match fitness then you need competitive level to do it.

"Of course we believe in him and of course we believe that sooner or later there will be no problem."

Another United midfielder, Michael Carrick, is also battling to earn a regular starting place in Mourinho's first-choice line-up although he appears to be a lot closer to winning him over.

The United manager, who has not handed a league start to the former England international this season, insists that the only problem he has with the veteran is that, at 35, he is coming to the end of his successful career, rather than the start of it.

"It's one thing to be 25, another thing to be 35," said the United manager. "That's the logic of things. But the only thing I can say is he's phenomenal. I can't expect from Michael what I can expect from (Marcus) Rashford or (Ander) Herrera in terms of playing three, four, five, seven consecutive matches. But he's phenomenal and when he is on the pitch, he gives us important things.

"He's not just a player, he is somebody who has a big understanding of the game and it's a pity sometimes you can't stop the clock. Of course, I wish he was 25. Its a pity, when you see players year after year, they become older. In five years' time, Messi will be 34 and we'll be crying that the guy is 34! Michael is an important player who's very difficult to replace."

Irish Independent

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