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Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Liverpool's Next Superstar?

By: Armen Bedakian 06 Jun 2013 09:17:57

Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Liverpool's Next Superstar?

The Armenian international and Shakhtar Donetsk star is set to make his big move at last with English Premier League outfit Liverpool FC.

In Mkhitaryan, Liverpool gain a player with tremendous talent and output, and fans at Anfield have every reason to be excited for a player whose name may be hard to pronounce but may soon be making headlines across the country. Simply put, Mkhitaryan is a classic talent. He consistently makes the list for top young players to watch in the Champions League, and has been linked to Manchester City, Chelsea and Juventus, to Liverpool and Tottenham. Well, the transfer saga looks to be coming to a close, with Liverpool FC declaring their interest weeks ago and now looking to wrap up the signing for roughly £22 million.

At 24 years old, Mkhitaryan is already an accomplished player. An Armenian international since 2006, when he started at the under 17 level, Mkhitaryan enjoyed a stellar 2012/2013 season in Ukraine, scoring 25 goals and recording 10 assists for Shakhtar Donetsk, one of the highest goalscoring margins in Europe for a midfielder. He’s an attacking player, with great vision and an ability to spot the goal from outside the box, a la Frank Lampard, and his free-kick ability is strong, too. It doesn’t hurt that he’s a trophy winner, potentially joining a Liverpool side that is hungry for silverware.

Mkhitaryan has won 14 trophies throughout his career with both FC Pyunik and Shakhtar, and Liverpool is in desperate need for trophy-winning players. His desire to join a big club was evident for a long time, with his recent agent change seeing him sign up with Mino Raiola specifically to get him to a big-name outfit. What you get is what you see with Mkhitaryan. He is not a player whose quality is shadowed by buzzwords like “potential;” he is a performer, perhaps a clutch performer, at every level he has played in. His acclimatization to English football may not see him explode onto the scene, but once he picks up steam, Mkhitaryan is exactly the kind of player who can perform when relied upon.

His style of play, however, is more in-tune with the Italian game, where defenders are slower and the build up is steadier. In the fast-paced English league, Mkhitaryan’s influence will be reliant on his pace and his ability to beat physically capable defenders, an area Mkhitaryan is adept at, too. In fact, while Shakhtar remained in the competition, Mkhitaryan covered more recorded ground than any other player, beating out workhorses like Andrea Pirlo and Xavi in midfield.

For Armenia, he has been used as a central attacking midfielder, but also as a central midfielder and as a left-winger, swapping the role with Yura Movsisyan, formerly ofReal Salt Lake in Major League Soccer. The two have heralded a new generation of Armenian talent and are largely responsible for the national team’s rise in the FIFA rankings as well as their recent string of competent performances against superior opposition. It’s these types of performances that have made him Armenia’s player of the year in 2011 and 2012, a feat he is set to repeat for 2013, too.

At Liverpool, Mkhitaryan would need to slot in behind a forward to be most effective, or be used alongside Steven Gerrard in a sort of compacted 4-3-3. At Shakhtar, Mkhitaryan’s best displays came from playing right behind a centre forward, most often Luiz Adriano. He also had a lot of support from Fernandinho in midfield, in a 4-2-3-1 formation that saw him play wedged between the two. Mkhitaryan’s success this season is due, in large part, to the strong play from the Brazilian duo surrounding him, and Liverpool need to provide similar options up top and right behind to utilize Mkhitaryan’s full capabilities. He’ll be playing against Fernandinho, who has just signed for Manchester City.

That’s not to say that Liverpool needs to splash more cash to justify Mkhitaryan’s place in the starting line up; he is a starter through and through and has been able to adapt to different teams with relative ease. His tendency to pop into the game at the most opportune time makes him a worry for defenders, too. However, it would be a keen signing for Liverpool to link Mkhitaryan up with Luiz Adriano, since Luis Suarez is set to depart from Anfield for a large figure. The only concern with Mkhitaryan is how he will adjust to a Liverpool line up that has, for the most part, relied on Steven Gerrard behind a forward for a long, long time.

Though Gerrard has been used in almost every position in midfield over his 15+ years at Liverpool, he has been most effective as a second striker, the position that Mkhitaryan also excels at. It would be difficult to replace the Liverpool legend, but Mkhitaryan is not a bench player, either; he is a player who has the skill and ability to warrant a starting spot and his work ethic has made him a favourite of Shakhtar head coach Mircea Lucescu. Still, it is not impossible, and as Gerrard isn’t getting any younger, the signing of Mkhitaryan could very well be a long-term solution for the Reds. The signing, it seems, is hung up on the sale of Luis Suarez.

Until the Uruguayan has departed, it looks like Mkhitaryan’s signature will have to wait. However, if Mkhitaryan does sign for Liverpool, one thing is certain, besides the numerous mispronunciations and misspellings of his name: He’ll be a treat to watch!


DSG

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