Manchester United’s new era under Jose Mourinho began with a pre-season friendly against Wigan Athletic at the DW Stadium.
After a pretty dismal two years under Louis van Gaal, the United fans are hoping for a change in fortune, and a return to the glory days, and in the Wigan friendly there may well have been a chink of light that things could be about to look up.
There were a number of things wrong with van Gaal’s tenure, but last seasons league tally of 49 goals showed attack one of the stand out problems. Despite the emergence of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, United really struggled to create and convert chances, and the No.10 position was one of the roles that was the most problematic.
Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata, Memphis Depay, Jesse Lingard, Ander Herrera and Marouane Fellaini were all tried at various times in the season, and none of them convinced.
So it was interesting to see one of United’s new signings, Henrikh Mkhitaryan on his debut, line up behind the lone forward, James Wilson.
Mkhitaryan showed in 45 minutes he is going to be a huge improvement in what has gone before if Mourinho decides that is where he is best deployed. There are some players who seem to be on a different level to those around them, and he had that aura about him.
With Depay and Lingard out wide, there was certainly some pace to help Mkhitaryan, and Wilson did his best to provide a focal point in attack.
Depay looked very bright and Mkhitaryan and he linked up well on a few occasions, but Wilson and Lingard trod water for most of their time on the pitch. Despite this, Mkhitaryan looked very dangerous whenever he took possession. And he constantly wanted possession.
He glides past players, and his vision is incredible. He is one of those wonderful players that are genuinely two footed and he showed enough in 45 minutes to suggest that allowing him to roam behind a striker could be the key to getting the best out of him.
With more quality around him, he could well reek havoc. The difficulty will be trying to shoe horn his predecessors into the team.
The arrival of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the emergence of Rashford means Rooney will generally only see the light of day in the ‘hole’. He can do that job without question, but Mkhitaryan looked a notch above.
Yet without too much strength in depth in the wide areas, Mkhitaryan may well be moved out to the right. Martial did more than enough to earn a shirt wide left, but the wide areas are not exactly overflowing with talent. So the No.10 position may still be up for grabs.
Mata created the first goal of the Mourinho era when he set up Will Keane for a tap in, and along with all of the others mentioned will hope there is still a chance that his United career isn’t over.
Adnan Januzaj will be hoping for the same, but although he got a second half run out, he also failed to really impress. He struck up a friendship Mkhitaryan’s during his brief spell at Borussia Dortmund, but unless he is able to show dramatic signs of improvement then he may not last long.
If Mkhitaryan does get moved to the right, then United could well have another option in Andreas Periera. Pereira scored a cracking goal against Wigan, and although he played in a deep lying playmaker role, he did himself no harm with his display.
He is a No.10 by trade and it was a surprise that after a good pre-season last year and a goal on his debut, he was sparingly used by van Gaal.
He is still a bit raw, and will more than likely have to bide his time once more, but he is a tidy, creative player and well be a long term solution – when Mkhitaryan is not around.
The Armenian struggled to justify his €27.5 million fee when Juergen Klopp signed him for Dortmund, but since Thomas Tuchel took over he has flourished. Dortmund fought tooth and nail to keep him from United, and on the evidence of the Wigan cameo it is not surprising.