Jose Mourinho remains hopeful that Henrikh Mkhitaryan will recover from injury in time for Manchester United's Premier League clash with Sunderland on Boxing Day. The Armenian playmaker continued his recent resurgence by scoring a maiden top-flight goal in Sunday's (11 December) 1-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur. However, an otherwise impressive afternoon ended on a sour note as he was stretchered off with five minutes remaining at Old Trafford after sustaining a left ankle injury during a hefty challenge from left-back Danny Rose.
Mourinho, while initially concerned over the severity of the issue, revealed after full-time that it did not appear to be anything dangerous and would not require surgery to correct. Mkhitaryan seems certain to be sidelined as United face two away trips in four days to Crystal Palace and West Bromwich Albion, although he looks likely to return for the busy festive period. Following that aforementioned match against Sunderland, the sixth-place Red Devils, who ended a run of four consecutive home draws against Tottenham but remain six points adrift of rivals Manchester City in fourth, host Middlesbrough on New Year's Eve before travelling to West Ham United.
"Hopefully Mkhitaryan can play at Christmas," the manager told reporters at a pre-match press conference on Monday. "We believe it's possible. When I saw him on the stretcher, I thought it was more difficult; when I watch the tackle on TV, I was a bit scared, but no. It's a pity, because he's going to miss matches in his best period, but at least we won't lose a player for so long."
Mkhitaryan certainly endured a difficult start to his United career following a £26.3m ($33.2m) summer switch from Borussia Dortmund, and struggled with a recurring thigh problem before spending almost two months in exile. The 27-year-old has recently proved his worth by scoring against both Zorya Luhansk and Everton in addition to laying on two late goals in the 4-1 EFL Cup quarter-final drubbing of West Ham, and Mourinho insists that he just needed time to adapt to English football.
"We bought him because I asked the club to do it. I like the player because I analyse the player. It would be more frustrating for me if everything went wrong, but he needed a period of adaptation at every level. In that period he was a great professional because maybe another guy in his position would find excuses, would blame the manager, would blame the pitch, would blame the weather... Many of the players now, they do. [But] he was quiet, closed his mouth [and] worked really hard waiting for opportunity. He was playing so good now, but hopefully a few matches out is not going to stop his evolution."
Mourinho also bemoaned the loss of "phenomenal" right-back and November player of the month Antonio Valencia, who will now serve a one-match suspension after accumulating five yellow cards. However, he refused to reveal if captain Wayne Rooney would return to the starting line-up at Selhurst Park after being left as an unused substitute against Spurs. Defensive pair Chris Smalling and Luke Shaw remain out, alongside long-term knee injury victim James Wilson.