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Man United can no longer afford to have Mkhitaryan be a passenger

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Jon Champion: Football has moved on from Mourinho (4:46)

Despite all the success Jose Mourinho has had in his career, Jon Champion wonders if the game has passed Mourinho by. (4:46)

Henrikh Mkhitaryan has been on the receiving end of plenty of criticism from Manchester United fans throughout the past month or more. Having assisted five goals in the opening weeks of the season, plenty were sneering at Jose Mourinho's decision to freeze him out for large spells when he first joined the club last season.

Yet the celebration over Mkhitaryan's contribution was seemingly premature with him going through a considerable dry patch since. Even in the games early on where he provided goals, he still went missing for substantial chunks of the game.

It's hard to recall a time when supporters were calling for the likes of Marcus Rashford or Anthony Martial to be taken off, yet most weeks the Armenian looked favourite to be substituted after doing next to nothing. You would hardly notice him on the pitch with him barely touching the ball. Then he would pop up with a brilliant assist and his quiet performance would be forgotten.

While it's obviously important for players, particularly in Mkhitaryan's position, to be heavily involved in the game, they are judged on the impact they have on the result. So he might not have done an awful lot over the 90 minutes but if he put in a perfect cross to set up a goal, then his inclusion was fairly well justified.

However, more recently, Mkhitaryan hasn't been contributing. He hasn't been providing goals. He's just been occupying a space on the pitch, with Jamie Carragher claiming that in the recent defeat against Chelsea it was as if United were playing with "10 men".

When comparing him to players at rival teams, the 28-year-old doesn't come across well.

In terms of passes completed per 90 minutes, he's managed an average of 40 over the course of the season, compared to the 75 of David Silva or 66 of Kevin De Bruyne.

In terms of key passes and chances created, he ranks below Eden Hazard and De Bruyne. When looking at his assists, while boasting five from the opening weeks, he still has fewer per 90 minutes than De Bruyne or Silva, and when it comes to shots, he averages fewer than all three aforementioned players.

Of course, football isn't about numbers, but it was the statistics that were used to justify his place in the team. He might not look as though he was doing an awful lot, but at least he was providing the side with goals. That's not happening anymore, though.

Gone are the days when United fans were begging Mourinho to start Mkhitaryan, rather instead hoping he loses his place in the team. It's so frustrating to see one of Rashford or Martial missing out, and other players dropped the moment they have a poor game, when the Armenian starts week in, week out regardless of how he plays. Somehow, Mkhitaryan is managing to convince Mourinho he's worthy of chance after chance.

This story is fairly familiar for United fans, too. They can see the magic that Mkhitaryan is capable of and love to watch players with a touch and eye for a pass like him. When he's in the mood, he can run at speed, the ball attached to his feet, and create special moments.

Shinji Kagawa was like this. He showed signs of being a real player in his first season at United, with Sir Alex Ferguson at the club, but failed to force his way in to the team on a consistent basis. There was hope he could emulate the form of his Borussia Dortmund days in his second season but the arrival of David Moyes laid those hopes to rest.

United went unbeaten in their first 12 games so Mkhitaryan avoided too much scrutiny. Yet with things going against them, suffering from two defeats in their past three league games, they can't afford to have one of their creative players as a passenger.

That's not to say he should be written off and sold. It's worth noting he's only played 35 Premier League games and just 24 of those have been from the start. But he turns 29 in a few months' time so you get the feeling it's now or never. This has to be the season he shines otherwise he may well have to make room for someone who can perform on a more consistent basis and find himself on the transfer list.