Hernikh Mkhitaryan and Juan Mata provide an invaluable calmness and precision to United’s attack, but neither had the easiest of roads to rise through the ranks at Old Trafford. Both had their respective “out of favor” periods with José Mourinho, and have had to earn their spot in a Manchester United side which they are now an important part of.
Juan Mata arrived in the January transfer window of the 2013-14 season from Premier League rivals Chelsea for a then Manchester United transfer record of £37m. He didn’t have the immediate impact that manager David Moyes was hoping for, but still managed to score six goals in a dismal Premier League campaign that saw United finish outside the top 4 for the first time in 24 years.
Following the departure of Moyes, Louis Van Gaal took the reigns as United manager, and Juan Mata’s performance, as well as the team’s, improved enough to qualify for the Champions League. However, an FA Cup victory in 2016 wasn’t enough to save Van Gaal after a dull 5th placed Premier League campaign and a Champions League group stage exit.
José Mourinho arrived as manager, and with him speculation that Mata would be pushed out like he was at Chelsea. The arrival of Henrikh Mkhitaryan boosted these suspicions, but Mkhitaryan saw limited involvement as Juan Mata starred early in the season for Mourinho’s United side.
Mkhitaryan and Mata didn’t play much together until the second half of the season, and both were crucial in the Europa League championship campaign that saw United qualify for the Champions League. Now both are featured regularly side by side as Mourinho’s key creative midfielders, and United are playing arguably their best football since Mourinho’s arrival. Some would say since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013.
Mkhitaryan in particular has been outstanding so far this season. His league leading 5 assists in 4 games has shown he is a step above from last season, when he only managed 1 assist all season. He isn’t alone in his midfield contributions either. Juan Mata’s creativity and selflessness has made him a standout since his arrival in 2014, but he is finally in a team where his hard work is put to good use.
Both had difficult patches last season, but who didn’t, besides maybe Zlatan Ibrahimović? United’s stellar form this season is largely attributable to Mkhitaryan and Mata’s attacking midfield partnership, where they dovetail and interchange on the right and down the middle of the attack.
Both are expected to continue playing an important role at United this season, and fans are hoping that with the likes of new talent Romelu Lukaku, a maturing Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, and a soon to be healthy Ibrahimović, United will have the firepower to challenge for the Premier League title once again.