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Mkhitaryan pushing for Man United starting spot

Manchester United's Henrikh Mkhitaryan, centre, watches as Feyenoord's goalkeeper Brad Jones makes a save during the Europa League group A soccer match between Manchester United and Feyenoord at the Old Trafford in Manchester, England, Thursday, Nov. 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Dave Thompson)
(AP Photo/Dave Thompson)

Henrikh Mkhitaryan is challenging for a spot in Manchester United’s starting XI after being instrumental in the 4-1 midweek win over West Ham United in the EFL Cup.

Mkhitaryan had an impressive showing with two assists as United defeated West Ham United in the EFL Cup quarterfinals. He got a chance to show off his technical skills and had a huge influence over the game and was voted man of the match. The Armenian international has had a rough start to his career at Old Trafford and has been left out of the team for most of the season by manager Jose Mourinho.

But it seems that Mkhitaryan has finally adjusted to life in England, and if the game against the Hammers is a sign of things to come, then United fans shouldn’t give up hope just yet.

Mkhitaryan was brought in over the summer from Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund for £25 million after putting up 11 goals and 15 assists in the German top flight last season. It was considered a staggering amount of money for a player that only had a year left on his contract. He’s been held to just one start in the Premier League, as he started on the right wing in the 2-1 loss to rivals Manchester City in the Manchester derby.

One player that is convinced about Mkhitaryan’s quality is United striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who backed the creative midfielder to come good sooner rather than later.

“I know who Miki is, I see it every day in training, so hopefully he showed everybody who he is and has the confidence to keep on doing that,” Ibrahimovic said in an interview last week.

“He was injured and he has been training very hard since, being very professional, so you just have to wait for your chance and, when you get your chance, you need to take it.

“It is up to the coach who plays, because there are 25 players if I am correct, so the coach is the boss, he decides who plays.

“He is a quality player, like every player in the team, but it is up to the coach who plays in the team. Like I said, he was injured for a while, but he has come back and he has been good in training, like everybody else.”

Mkhitaryan provided a real gem of an assist to Ibrahimovic for the opening goal against West Ham, and the two players linked up very well throughout the match. He also had an assist for Anthony Martial’s goal that made it 2-1 early in the second half.

Writing for the Players’ Tribune before the game against West Ham, Mkhitaryan stressed that he’s not regretting his decision to sign for United despite the rocky start, and said he’s willing to fight for a place in the team.

“At the beginning of this season at United, I suffered an injury and have not had many chances to play,” Mkhitaryan said. “It would be fair to say that the start of my life in Manchester was not perfect.

“But there have been many other times when I’ve had setbacks, and I have never given up. I will continue working every day so that I can help the team succeed.

“If you asked my mum and my sisters about me, they would say that I am quite hard. I can be very serious. But if I’m being honest, I’m very happy with the way my life has turned out. It was always my dream to play for the biggest clubs in the world.”

His performance against West Ham should earn him a prolonged run in the starting XI, and his linkup play with Ibrahimovic and Martial was some of the best we’ve seen all season. With United struggling in the league, a Mkhitaryan in form could provide a much needed spark for the Red Devils as they try to salvage the season.

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