Mahesh takes a look at Henrikh Mkhitaryan and discusses how Brendan Rogers might look to use him, should the Reds manage to sign the talented Armenian.
If reports are to be believed, we are moving fast to secure what is to be our third signing of the summer in Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
At the reported £20 million, Mkhitaryan is likely to be our marquee signing of the summer. While I don’t really judge players by their transfer fees, Mkhitaryan seems to be the kind of solid, low risk player who will, if unspectacularly, do his job very effectively.
The primary weapons in his armoury are pace and his off the ball running, both of which are easily transferrable across leagues. He also possesses a phenomenal work rate, harrying defenders and running after the loose ball. He is physically strong and is not easily fazed by the physicality of the defenders.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan is such a versatile player, he opens up a large pool of options for Rodgers.
Option 1: CAM
Playing as a central attacking midfielder (CAM) in a largely successful season for Shakhtar, Mkhitaryan has looked a natural in this position. Taking over from Jadson, Mkhitaryan has enjoyed the best season of his career from this position banging in 25 goals in the process. He is not the type of creative Cam that looks to sit in the hole and orchestrate the attacks but a more like a secondary striker. As a CAM he likes to make those runs in behind the defence looking to receive the ball between the keeper and the defence. He has exceptional off the ball running and makes very well timed runs. Making runs as a CAM he is running against the generally slower centre back and is able to find space easily. He seeks to play in between the lines to receive the ball, link up play, bringing other in the game and then making runs as opportunity presents. He is always looking for space and is ready to drop deep or run channels if need be. Without the ball he is very hardworking and harrying defenders chasing loose ball, closing down players and fighting to regain possession.
Drawbacks: He has, at times, a frustrating first touch and ends up losing possession in promising areas. He also has trouble when he is closed down quickly by the opposition finds it hard to play in a tight closed space. One major fallout of Henrikh Mkhitaryan as a CAM is the gameplay of Daniel Sturridge. Both Mkhitaryan and Sturridge are players who like to make runs in behind the defence. To accommodate Mkhitaryan, Sturridge might have to make oblique runs that drag the defence out of shape thereby creating space for Mkhitaryan to run into. This might prove to have a detrimental effect on Sturridge’s productivity.
Option 2: Winger
Playing as a CAM for Shakhtar, he often drifts wider in order to find space. He is hence used to playing wider. He certainly possesses all the pace and dexterity required to cut it as a winger. He is fast, times his runs well, has decent close control, crosses the ball well and has a rocket of a shot making it obvious to experiment trying him out wide. He also has a good work rate and stamina and he will track back. As a winger he will have more time on the ball and his sporadic poor first touch will have lesser consequence. Shifting him out wider will also enable Rogers to play a more creative conventional CAM. Playing a CAM who primarily looks to get in behind the defence will make our play very direct. Pushing Mkhitaryan out wide will give more balance to our play. Especially against teams who come to Anfeild trying to eke out a draw and sit deep there will be lesser space for Mkhitaryan to run into behind the defence while as a winger he will find more space.
Drawbacks: While Mkhitaryan is fast, he has been up against the slower centre backs up till now. Running against the generally faster full backs will be a whole new ball game. He will also have to learn to use his body strength against the defenders. It could take some 5-6 games for him to get adjusted to this position.
Option 3: CM
Mkhitaryan has in the past played as a deeper player. In his first season at Shakhtar, when Jadson was still there in the CAM position, Henrikh Mkhitaryan used to be fielded in a much deeper role. He has the defensive abilities to play deeper and the industry to pull it off. He is good with the ball at his feet, good at linking up play and is tireless in his running. This will also put to best use his ability to arrive late into the box. Arriving into the box late is one of the most underrated and rare skills in football. Just ask Frank Lampard. Coupled with his excellent finishing could prove a deadly combination. Playing Mkhitaryan as a box to box CM could just prove to be a masterstroke. With Mkhitaryan’s ability to run with the ball,
His excellent engine, physicality and link up play he would, in theory at least, develop into a very good box to box midfielder. Mkhitaryan does drop deeper as a CAM too and is very much involved in the build-up play and hence this change of positions will not be as drastic as one would expect. He has also had experience of playing deeper earlier in his career. Rogers is very proactive in experimenting with his players in different positions and formations and this is definitely one worth trying.
Drawbacks: apart from the time taken to let him get used to the change of position, there are a few negatives to this approach. He could work on his first touch and passing to make himself a better player but that is true for whatever position he plays in. I suspect Henrikh Mkhitaryan will be used as a backup midfielder and if trained well could become a very good box-to-box midfielder in time.
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