The Perfect Defensive System #5- Gegenpressing

In this new series called The Perfect Defensive System,we invite you the reader to contribute posts on what you think is the best defensive...
Ritesh Gogineni
Editor/Founder of The False 9.

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Why Henrikh Mkhitaryan is a perfect Jose Mourinho player

Henrikh Mkhitaryan has been confirmed as the third transfer under Jose Mourinho after the signings of Eric Bailly and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Mkhitaryan has had an excellent season for Dortmund under Thomas Tuchel and is a kind of a player who will thrive under a coach like Mourinho.

Mkhitaryan is very flexible, and has been played in many, many positions throughout the past season. He mainly played in the right attacking midfield role under Tuchel, but was played significantly as the Center attacking midfielder the year before that, and as a deeper number 8 for Shaktar. Yet, Mkhitaryan was not only played on the right this season. In the Rückrunde, Thomas Tuchel started to deviate from a 4-1-4-1 to a more fluid 5-3-2 ,3-5-2 combination. With both of these formations, there was no orthodox Right winger, forcing Mkhitaryan to adapt to a more condensed central role. In matches like the DFB Pokal semifinal in Berlin, Mkhitaryan was played as more of a right back/wing combo. In a match against Stuttgart, he played in the role of Ilkay Gundogan, prompting many, including myself to see him as the natural replacement for Ilkay moving forward. The main point of note in this is that Miki is not only very flexible in his positioning, but he absolutely excelled in these positions. When an attacking mid replaces Durm at wingback, you can tell he is reliable just about everywhere. Won’t Mourinho love someone like him.
Mkhitaryan excels at a few very important skills: finishing, pace, dribbling, and work-rate. A testament to Mkhitaryan’s skill is his ability to track back, running all the way down the pitch and still being able to position himself to get on the scoresheet. The absolute epitome of his play ironically happened on Match Day 1 against Gladbach. This Webm shows it all.

Watch it a couple times and you can notice a couple things about Miki and his counter parts. The moment the ball is won, Miki immediately puts his head down and starts sprinting up the pitch. This is in a system that is not specifically meant for countering, but just a testament to his natural instinct. Compare him to club golden-boy Marco Reus. Reus was actually fit for this match (surprising, I know) and just slowly starts up on his run. Is there anything wrong with this? In short, no; Reus has space around him to receive the ball, and can then transition slowly into their shape during possession. However, this shows the workrate of Mkhitaryan to a great extent, running almost 70m in 9 seconds. This was not a time where Dortmund were losing and were in need of a goal, but Miki worked extremely hard to be in position to score the tap-in. Another example can be seen in https://streamable.com/c4kf.

 

Look at how far out Mkhitaryan is when Auba wins the ball. Miki sprints 40m in just a few seconds, takes the ball neatly in stride, dribbles past the keeper, and slots the ball in. All parts of this are significant; his workrate, his touch, his dribbling, and his ability to actually finish when he is past the keeper.

I have very rarely ever seen a winger with such a good workrate, with other skills as well. What I mean is that Miki wasn’t using his work-rate to hide the fact he was not technically good, or smart with the ball etc. This aspect of him is not replaceable, especially for Dortmund. I fail to think of a single winger with that type of work-rate that has that skill in the entire world, let alone in the pool of transfer targets for Dortmund. This loss may be hypothetically covered by the signing of Rode, adding another hard worker to the squad. While literally everyone loves Weigl, he doesn’t possess the speed or the intelligence to compensate for the lack of speed (yet) to be total stopper in the middle. Maybe Rode is part of Tuchel’s Tactical Shift, compensating for Miki’s contributions defensively rather than Ilkay’s contributions offensively.

Jose Mourinho will most likely field a 4-3-3 with Henrikh on the right. At times, Mourinho will want his wingers and attacking players to perform immense defensive duties which Henrikh is perfectly capable of. Also, Mourinho certainly wants to turn United into a more direct, pacy and a counter-attacking team for which Miki will be a perfect fit.

-This is a modified version of a post which appeared on /r/borussiadortmund

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Ritesh Gogineni
Editor/Founder of The False 9.

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