10182017

Liverpool beware! Henrikh Mkhitaryan is the creative force driving Dortmund

When Liverpool face Borussia Dortmund on Thursday night, they will know they need to keep the likes of Marco Reus and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang quiet in order to progress.

The Gabonese striker is the reigning African Footballer of the Year, has 33 goals in all competitions this season and combines pace, power and cool finishing to devastating effect, while the German winger has long been heralded as the golden boy, not just of Dortmund, but of European football.

But, while those two may be the biggest names, alongside them is a man who Liverpool know all about, and who could be just as much of a threat.

Borussia Dortmund's Henrikh Mkhitaryan battles with Liverpool defender Nathaniel Clyne during the first leg

Borussia Dortmund’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan battles with Liverpool defender Nathaniel Clyne during the first leg

Alongside Marco Reus (left) and Pierre-Emerick Abameyang, Mkhitaryan has emerged as a star at Dortmund

Alongside Marco Reus (left) and Pierre-Emerick Abameyang, Mkhitaryan has emerged as a star at Dortmund

The Armenian star, pictured alongside Shinji Kagawa in training, has provided 17 assists this season

The Armenian star, pictured alongside Shinji Kagawa in training, has provided 17 assists this season

Henrikh Mkhitaryan is, in many ways, the key man for Dortmund, the creative fulcrum around which Thomas Tuchel’s new iteration of Jurgen Klopp’s side revolves.

Aubameyang gets the goals, but, more often than not, it’s the Armenian midfielder who creates them. 

The many consonants of Mkhitaryan are not likely to make up a new name to even the most isolationist of English football fans – the former Shakhtar star first played on English soil as long ago as 2010, for the Ukrainian side against Arsenal, and Thursday’s game will be his 11th against Premier League opposition.

In that time he has gone from emerging young talent to fully-rounded playmaker, one who is equally adept at breaking down a defence with a silky dribble as an incisive pass.

Now reaching his peak the Armenian, who comes from good footballing stock, with father Hamlet also an international in the 1990s, has become one of Europe’s most sought-after stars.

His 17 assists this season in all competitions leave him behind only Mesut Ozil in terms of creating goals this season – and he is in red hot form, with four of those 17 coming in his last five games. 

The 27-year-old first played on English soil for Shakhtar Donetsk, against Arsenal, in 2010

The 27-year-old first played on English soil for Shakhtar Donetsk, against Arsenal, in 2010

Mkhitaryan is equally adept at breaking down a defence with a silky dribble as an incisive pass

Mkhitaryan is equally adept at breaking down a defence with a silky dribble as an incisive pass

If Liverpool are to progress to the Europa League semi-finals they will need to find a way to stop the Armenian

If Liverpool are to progress to the Europa League semi-finals they will need to find a way to stop the Armenian

One criticism that can be made of the 27-year-old is that, for all his quality, his end product is, at times, wayward.

Last season he found the target just four times in 40 games, and though the 15 goals he has scored in all competitions this season suggest that he has developed an eye for goal, in reality, he could have many more.

It is testament to his quality, and the way he reads the game, that 15 goals from midfield feels like a modest return – Mkhitaryan always seems to arrive in the right place at the right time, and with better finishing you feel like he could be one of the great goalscoring midfielders. As it is, too often he seems to arrive at the perfect time only to apply an imperfect touch.

Yet that is not the issue to focus on – his 10 league goals this season have helped Dortmund into a Bundesliga title race, but really they are a bonus, rather than what his game is, and should be about. 

Under Thomas Tuchel Mkitaryan has found an eye for goal, and become Dortmund's creative fulcrum

Under Thomas Tuchel Mkitaryan has found an eye for goal, and become Dortmund’s creative fulcrum

The Dortmund squad train on the Anfield pitch ahead of their crucial second-leg tie on Thursday night

The Dortmund squad train on the Anfield pitch ahead of their crucial second-leg tie on Thursday night

His quality and versatility – he can play anywhere across the line behind the front man, and has even operated in deeper roles when needed – are what have attracted the attention of many an English club.

Liverpool themselves have long been linked with him, and Klopp was a big enough fan to spend almost £25m on the playmaker three years ago, while most recently Arsenal have been touted as his most likely destination outside of Germany, as a move becomes more and more likely.

The Armenian is only contracted to Dortmund until the end of next season, and looks like he will not sign a new deal, so a summer move is certainly on the cards.

Mkhitaryan is represented by agent Mino Raiola, who has some of Europe's biggest stars on his books

Mkhitaryan is represented by agent Mino Raiola, who has some of Europe’s biggest stars on his books

Jurgen Klopp is a known fan, having spent almost £25m to bring the midfielder to Germany in 2013

Jurgen Klopp is a known fan, having spent almost £25m to bring the midfielder to Germany in 2013

If he does move, Thursday’s game is another chance to convince his suitors in this country that he is worth the bumper pay-packet that agent Mino Raiola is understood to be pushing for.

The super-agent, whose clients include Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Romelu Lukaku, would hope to use interest from Arsenal and Italian champions Juventus to make the Armenian part of Europe’s elite in terms of wages.    

On the evidence of this season, and as Liverpool may well find out to their detriment, he is already part of that elite in terms of quality. 

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