What a difference a month makes in football. Just over four weeks ago, a rampaging Manchester United went into the October international break off the back of a comfortable 4-0 victory over Crystal Palace at Old Trafford.
That victory made it nine wins from their opening 11 competitive fixtures, having drawn 2-2 away to Stoke and suffering a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Real Madrid in the Super Cup.
United were playing the type of expansive, attacking football not seen at Old Trafford since the trophy-laden days of Sir Alex Ferguson, and one of the key factors to their impressive start was the irresistible form of Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
The Armenia international endured a well-documented slow start to his United career last season and despite hitting a purple patch back in December, as well as scoring in the Europa League final win over Ajax, struggled to live up to the fans’ high expectations of him.
His performances at the start of the current campaign, however, in which he scored once and racked up five assists from his opening five league matches, finally showed the Old Trafford faithful exactly why Jose Mourinho shelled out £26 million to sign the playmaker from Borussia Dortmund.
Mkhitaryan’s form in the past few weeks, just like the team’s, has dipped considerably, to the point where a large number of the United faithful were surprised to see the Armenian included in the starting line-up for the crunch clash away to Chelsea on Sunday.
There was little surprise, then, when the 28-year-old was hooked by Mourinho in place of Anthony Martial with just over an hour of the game played.
United, a goal down and chasing the game, were overrun in the middle of the park, with Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera receiving little defensive support from Mkhitaryan, allowing Chelsea’s midfield three of N’Golo Kante, Cesc Fabregas and Tiemoue Bakayoko to overpower the visitors and essentially hand the Blues a vital three points.
Whilst the defensive side of the game is not the Armenian’s cup of tea, his performance in the opponent’s half was hardly any better.
It is precisely in these types of fixtures, where the margins between winning and losing are so small, that Mkhitaryan simply has to raise his game and be able to provide that bit of magic that United supporters know he is more than capable of.
It is all well and good running rings around the likes of a disjointed West Ham United side, or tearing a disorganised Everton to shreds, however, Mkhitaryan’s United career will ultimately be judged on whether he was able to deliver when it mattered most.
At this point, the jury is still out.
United return to action in just under a fortnight, when they welcome Newcastle United to Old Trafford and there can be little surprise if Mkhitaryan once again finds himself falling down Mourinho’s pecking order.