Having been anxiously looking forward to Saturday’s Manchester derby and the clash of José Mourinho and Pep Guardiola’s respective new-look teams, supporters in red were no doubt left frustrated by the final 2-1 defeat at Old Trafford.
Their City rivals started brightly – scoring through Belgian youngster Kevin De Bruyne and Kelechi Iheanacho – before Zlatan Ibrahimovic pulled a goal back with the help of an awful failed flap from City’s new goalkeeper, Claudio Bravo, shortly before the interval.
Ahead of the early afternoon kick off, Mourinho decided to hand Henrikh Mkhitaryan his first Premier League start since joining from Borussia Dortmund in the summer – having impressed last time out in the league in coming on as a substitute against Hull City.
However, despite a handful of early dashes down the right-hand side of the Old Trafford sod, the Armenian international was fairly subdued overall and failed to make the much longed for impact he was expected to. As a result, he was replaced at half time in the game.
Speaking afterwards, Mourinho defended his decision, refused to criticise any individual player, and insisted that his side’s poor first-half performance was not solely down to disappointing showing from Mkhitaryan and fellow starter Jesse Lingard.
“Even now our central defenders today they lost easy balls, bad passes, first station passes from Bailly to Fellaini and Blind to Pogba. We lost the ball in these kind of positions, so it was not Mikhi and Jesse it was much more than Mikhi and Jesse.”
Later on Saturday evening another possible explanation emerged though – from respected football journalist Gabriele Marcotti.
Told Mkhitaryan wasn't fully fit. Injured on int'l duty, MRI tomorrow. Might help explain 1st half performance. #mufc
— Gabriele Marcotti (@Marcotti) September 10, 2016
This update certainly fits into the context of the week where Mkhitaryan himself at one stage admitted on social media that he wasn’t yet certain whether or not he would be able to play against City because of a thigh injury picked up while on international duty the previous week.
If nothing else, it could explain why the midfielder has not yet hit the heights of what’s expected from him this term, though there has been no official word from the club to confirm the continuing issue at this stage.