With the Henrikh Mkhitaryan transfer saga finally over, many of the recent discussions have been about what Liverpool have missed and Dortmund have gained. However the other side of the story needs to be explored — whether Dortmund could have signed a better replacement for Bayern Munich’s Mario Götze than Mkhitaryan.
Former Ukrainian footballer Volodymyr Lyutyi recently claimed that Mkhitaryan “equals” Götze and may even surpass the German prodigy because he can score as well. In fact, it is very plausible that he surpasses Götze in terms of key technical ability. The Armenian international’s finish is simply flawless, and it is something that Götze lacks. Moreover, he is able to consistently execute key, simple passes accurately to set teammates up for easy goals.
Nevertheless, this does not make Mkhitaryan a better player than Götze. Firstly, Mkhitaryan’s first touch is quite poor, which is a big problem as he will not be allowed the same amount of space in Germany. This could reduce his effectiveness tremendously. Secondly he is not overly comfortable on the ball. Unlike Götze, he is not the type of player that repeatedly dribbles past a solid defense with ease. Mkhitaryan is the kind of player who does a lot of direct running. But without the necessary dribbling techniques, he is going to struggle to create the spark against the stubborn defence of many Bundesliga teams like Freiburg. Finally, Mkhitaryan is quite quick, at least relative to his Ukrainian counterpart, but he is not pacey and agile like Götze. His playmaking is also limited as he does not tend to play through-balls, which is a crucial part of Dortmund’s pressing and counter attacking play. If anything, Mkhitaryan would be better off participating in the counter attack than engineering it, but once again, he lacks the pace and the skills to be the most effective player.
In Götze, Dortmund had someone who could be a playmaker in two ways – running at defenders and getting into a dangerous position, or sending through-balls to dangerous positions from the midfield. Mkhitaryan does not excel in either. He is simply a different type of playmaker: He executes simple passes or finishes by getting himself into a good position. The question is whether this kind of playmaker would fit into Dortmund’s effective counter attacking system.
In terms of surname, Mkhitaryan certainly fits in at Dortmund, as it is yet another surname that no one can pronounce or spell properly. In terms of playing, if Klopp puts Reus, Mkhitaryan, Błaszczykowski and Aubameyang together, then we might actually see headless chicken making direct runs all over the field. It is not clear if that will work but one thing is for sure: all of them require substantial playmaking provision from the midfield and the already fantastic Gundogan will have to step up another level to meet that demand.
However, since Mkhitaryan is not really a Götze, one might wonder how he would fit in tactically. He is someone who gets into the right position at the right time, who surges forward often, who is not afraid to shoot, gives out good simple passes, gets the job done, is not overly skillful with the ball or the quickest of players. A very familiar name immediately springs to mind – Shinji Kagawa at his best (in his season with Dortmund). If anything, the three times Armenian Footballer of the Year is the Kagawa replacement that has come a year late, and he is probably better than Kagawa in what he does. In that sense, Reus is more like a Götze replacement a year early, and on the left wing, he is an improved Götze who not only can dribble and create play, but also score for fun. Given Mkhitaryan’s physique and work rate, Klopp could even develop him into a Lewandowski but one will have to see about that.