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Henrikh Mkhitaryan

Henrikh Mkhitaryan

Broussia Dortmund would need to be ‘imaginative’ in order to bring Henrikh Mkhitaryan home, according to the club’s CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke.

The Armenia international joined Manchester United the summer before last but has struggled to cement a place in Jose Mourinho‘s strongest XI.

Mkhitaryan was dropped from eight of the last nine Premier League matchday squads before he made a late substitute appearance in Saturday’s frustrating 2-2 draw with Leicester City.

The playmaker is said to have fallen out with his manager and the pair were reportedly involved in a training ground bust-up after a video analysis session highlighted a defensive mistake Mourinho claimed the player had made during a match against Brighton at Old Trafford.

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Riyad Mahrez in action with Stephen Ward

Riyad Mahrez in action with Stephen Ward

Forget the Jamie Vardy movie, the makers of Being John Malkovich should start planning a sequel.

Instead of a portal into the mind of a Hollywood actor, it would be a great idea if the protagonists tapped into the complex mind of a professional footballer – and Riyad Mahrez would be a perfect candidate.

Just what Mahrez is thinking right now as we head into what is expected to be another tumultuous transfer window is anyone’s guess?

A penny for your thoughts Riyad? I think it would cost a lot more than that. A fortune beyond even the enormous wealth of Leicester City owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha.
Mahrez was poorly advised in summer

There was no doubt about his mindset last summer. Poorly advised, he declared his intention to leave early on in the summer.

For what purpose that decision was taken, again who knows? It seems illogically to put Mahrez in a position where he was potentially alienating himself from the club and the supporters when there was no deal for him to leave on the table.

Then there was the transfer deadline day dash back from Algeria to sit in some airport terminal, like Tom Hanks’ character Viktor Navorski in the film The Terminal (there is a cinematic theme here) waiting for a transfer that never came.

That move, however, seemed more logical as he would have been caught on a long-haul flight for an international game and impossible to contact had a deal emerged at the last minute.
Mahrez was made to look a little foolish

But it did result in him looking a little foolish, and on his return his City team-mates certainly made the most of it with their dressing room banter.

Since then Mahrez had made all the right noises. He doesn’t speak publicly often, but when he has stopped to speak to reporters he has spoken about his love for City, his connection to the club having experienced so much at the King Power Stadium and has insisted he is settled.

However, then he made three moves which through everything back into the balance.

Firstly, and not surprisingly, it is understood he has changed his agent.
New advisor was behind Coutinho-Barca moves in summer

He is now understood to be working with Kia Joorabchian, who is described as an advisor rather than an agent, who was said to be behind Philippe Coutinho’s attempts to join Barcelona last summer.

The agent who was trying to get his move away from City last summer, Kamel Bengougam, has recently insisted that he still represents Mahrez. Awkward.

Then, last week, Mahrez gave an interview to the Daily Mail in which he again stated his desire to get ‘to the top’ of the game was strong, regardless of the bumper contract he has with City, which still has two-and-a-half years to run.

He also spoke of talks held with Arsenal and how he thought a deal was going to be done. I doubt that interview went down well with City.
Was blond haircut also a transfer clue?

Finally, he turned up for the game against Burnley last Saturday with a bleached blond haircut which made him stand-out even more on the pitch.

Was it tactical? It certainly led to plenty of attention and to a few newspaper references to his ‘blond ambition’.

His performances in recent weeks have certainly been more like those fantastic displays City fans saw two years ago when he was crowned PFA player of the year and was nominated for the Ballon d’Or award.

Claude Puel has spoken of his desire to ‘seduce’ Mahrez into wanting to stay at City.

Puel will try to persuade Mahrez to stay

With both being French speakers, it was hoped Puel could sweet talk him using the language of love, but the indications are Mahrez could be about to spurn his advances.

Puel says he hasn’t been given any indication by Mahrez that he still wants to leave, but he hasn’t said he wants to stay either.

Puel is currently using an interpreter to help him understand the journalists a little better during press conferences, but when it comes to dealing with Mahrez he might want to consider a mind reader.

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Jose Mourinho

Jose Mourinho

For the Manchester United fans who have not yet completely erased David Moyes from their collective memory, Newcastle United at home comes with a shiver.

“They are coming to Old Trafford and we are going to make it as hard for them as we possibly can,” Moyes said, in December 2013.

Make it hard. For Newcastle. At Old Trafford.

That, and the fact United lost the game 1-0, came, in part, to symbolise Moyes’ reign as manager. A perceived lack of belief and results that seemed to prove it.

Newcastle were the third team to win at Old Trafford during Moyes’ tenure after Everton and West Bromwich Albion. Tottenham Hotspur, Swansea City, Liverpool and Manchester City would all do the same by the time he was sacked.

United under Jose Mourinho do not have the same problem.

Newcastle were beaten at Old Trafford on Saturday in the way they used to be. Comfortably and, despite scoring an early goal, with minimal fuss.

“Lads, it’s Newcastle,” Sir Alex Ferguson might have said.

It extended United’s unbeaten run at home to 38 games in all competitions — matching Ferguson’s best run between December 1998 and April 2000. The club record is 39 games unbeaten between 1964 and 1966.

Mourinho’s team have also won their first nine home games of the season — a post-war club record. Dwight Gayle’s opener for Newcastle was the first league goal United have conceded at home since April.

The belief is back and so are the results.

Of course, it means nothing to Mourinho and he said as much at his prematch news conference on Friday. He is not here to set records, he said, only to win trophies. If one follows the other, then great. But it is only really silverware that interests him.

Mourinho might not want to spend too much time talking about United’s home form, but it is not an accident. His career is built on winning home games. Particularly home games in the league.

Between February 2002 and April 2011, he did not lose one. The run spanned nine years, one month and 10 days, four clubs in four different countries, 150 games, 125 wins and 25 draws.

Since taking over at Porto in 2002, Mourinho has only ever lost nine league games at home — and four of those were during Chelsea’s disastrous run at the beginning of the 2015-16 season.

Barcelona are still the only side to inflict a home defeat on a Mourinho team in the league during a season when they have gone on to win the title.

The team that beat Real Madrid 3-1 at the Bernabeu in December 2011 included Lionel Messi, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and David Villa and was managed by Pep Guardiola.

It was Guardiola’s Manchester City that last won at Old Trafford more than a year ago.

They will be back on Dec. 10 for a game that could decide whether or not there will be a title race this season.

City have been in blistering form but, at home, Mourinho will fancy his chances.

“After playing so many away games recently, seven of our last 10, it is pleasing that five of our next eight matches will all be at Old Trafford,” he wrote in his programme notes ahead of Newcastle’s visit.

“This is a time when we can build momentum as we work towards our aims, and like I always say, we will always do better when you play with us, so if you get behind the boys, they can make some real progress over the coming weeks.”

Progress for United would be eating into City’s eight-point lead at the top of the table.

It is thanks to their home form that they are still in touch at all after losing two and drawing two of their last five Premier League away games.

Wins over Brighton & Hove Albion, CSKA Moscow and Manchester City in the next month would set a new club mark of 41 consecutive games unbeaten at home. But victory over City would be more significant than the other 40 put together.

The belief, the fear factor — whatever you want to call it — is back for the first time since Ferguson retired.

Meaningful title challenges also disappeared when Sir Alex left. Mourinho will hope that is about to change, too.