They were two of Bundesliga's leading men but Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pep Guardiola aren't having things all their own way in England. Guardiola is on his worst run as a boss while Mkhitaryan has barely been seen.
When the reigning Bundesliga Player of the Year joined Jose Mourinho's Manchester United in July, it seemed a move that delighted all parties, except perhaps Borussia Dortmund. "I am very proud to join Manchester United, this move is a dream come true for me," said Mkhitaryan. His new boss was equally effusive: "He is a real team player with great skill, vision and also has a good eye for goal. I am delighted he has chosen to sign for United."
Three months later, the Armenian playmaker has played a total of 104 minutes in the Premier League and couldn't even make the bench for United's League Cup tie against Guardiola's Manchester City side on Tuesday. While Mkhitaryan had an injury early in the campaign, he has been available for some time and was named in the 20-man matchday squad for his team's 1-0 defeat before being cut from the final 18.
The English football media, including "Guardian Sport's" Daniel Harris, and scores of United fans on Twitter and elsewhere have been baffled by the decision to freeze out a man who scored 23 goals and laid on a further 26 last term. One English paper, "The Sun," even went as far as to suggest that Mourinho will offload his 42.5-million-euro ($46.3 million) signing in January. Mkhitaryan insisted he wanted to stay and knuckle down.
"It doesn’t matter if they buy me for, I don’t know, 38 million pounds (33.5 million euros, $36.5 million) or 40 million pounds, I am not guaranteed to play the games," he said earlier this week.
"So I am trying to do my best during the training to earn this place to play and then we will see, because I don’t think I will play every game, depending on the tactical situation, depending on the opponent. But I will do everything to try and help the team."
His Portuguese boss said his charge "has to work more to get the intensity and fitness to play at a high level" but has also suggested in the past that he isn't sure where Mkhitaryan fits in to his best 11.
Whatever the reason, Mkhitaryan hasn't featured for a side who are struggling for Premier League form since September 10, when he was hauled off at half time as United were put to the sword by City. This can't be how he imagined things would go back in July.
Guardiola's worst run as a boss
While Mkhitaryan watched the League Cup match from the stands, Pep Guardiola was gesticulating on the sidelines as his weakened team failed to win for the sixth match in a row. The former Bayern Munich coach looked unstoppable early in his City reign, winning his first 10 matches. But his team have not won since September 24 and were recently hammered 4-0 at another of Guardiola's old stomping grounds, the Camp Nou, in the Champions League.
The current malaise is far from terminal for City and Guardiola; the club remain top of the Premier League and are still favorites to progress from a Champions League group which also includes Borussia Mönchengladbach and Celtic, but the run is Guardiola's longest sequence without a win in his nine-year managerial career.
He has drawn some criticism for loaning keeper Joe Hart to Torino and replacing him with ex-Barca stopper Claudio Bravo, who was sent off in City's defeat in Spain, and for dropping star striker Sergio Aguero. There have also been those who see the lack of cohesion in City's recent performances as a symptom of their boss's tactical tinkering. But the Catalan will stick to his principles.
"I feel the same as when we won 10 games in a row," Guardiola said. "Every match is different. We have to analyze every match, every bad result, but I have the same approach as when we were winning every game. Every team has runs of good and bad results. We still need to improve, and we will."
He has every reason to believe in his method. If three La Liga titles, four domestic cups, three Bundesliga crowns and a pair of Champions League wins weren't enough evidence, his last win drought surely is. When his Barcelona side failed to win in five games in the 2008-09 season, they went on to win the treble. Crisis? What crisis?