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Thursday 14 December 2017

Mourinho lauds 'phenomenal' Mkhitaryan back-heel

Manchester Utd 3 Sunderland 1

Manchester United’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan back-heels the ball into the top corner against Sunderland at Old Trafford. Photo: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images
Manchester United’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan back-heels the ball into the top corner against Sunderland at Old Trafford. Photo: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images

Jose Mourinho was taken aback by the "phenomenal" Henrikh Mkhitaryan goal that capped Manchester United's comprehensive win and ensured a chastening Old Trafford return for Sunderland manager David Moyes.

Initial struggles to break into the squad, never mind the line-up, have become a thing of the past for the talented Armenian, who has rapidly become a fans' favourite.

Mkhitaryan netted in a third successive match on St Stephen's Day and few can have opened their United account with three better goals after he followed up his excellent solo goal at Zorya Luhansk and drive against Tottenham.

Back from an ankle complaint, the 27-year-old substitute met a cross from Zlatan Ibrahimovic with an outrageous flick towards the end of the 3-1 win against Sunderland.

"I have to watch back on TV because I didn't yet, but it looked for me phenomenal," Mourinho said of the beautiful, if in fact offside, goal.

"I think he scored in the right goal, the Stretford End, with the people very enthusiastic just behind.

"It was a great moment and for him important because he was going up and up and then the injury comes.

"He was out of two matches and he's back. And to be back not just (with) the goal, I think he also brought quality with his performance. I am obviously happy."

Mourinho believes United thoroughly deserved the win, having followed Daley Blind's first-half strike with a fine display after the break.

Ibrahimovic provided the assist for the defender and crossed for Mkhitaryan, having coolly netted United's second himself.

The 35-year-old has been involved in 12 Premier League goals this season and Mourinho again said that his future will be at Old Trafford beyond the end of the season.

"I am not really surprised because he is a very intelligent guy and he's a very proud man," the United manager said. "For him to decide to come to a club with the level of expectation of Manchester United and the most difficult league in the world for a striker, it is because he knows that he can do it.

"So when we contacted him and he said, 'Yes, I want', I was sure that he was not coming here to leave the Premier League without proving (his worth), leaving the Premier League failing at Manchester United. No way."

Asked if the one-year extension clause beyond Ibrahimovic's initial one-season has been activated, Mourinho said: "Not yet, but it is activated in his brain and it is activated also in my decisions, the owners and the board's, so no problem."

Ibrahimovic has another chance to shine against Middlesbrough on New Year's Eve - another match Wayne Rooney could likely miss again.

"Honestly, I don't think so," Mourinho said when asked if Rooney would be fit to face Boro. "I hope so. I would like. He is always a player I would like to have, but I have my little doubts. It is a strained muscle."

United's fourth straight Premier League win saw Moyes' return to Old Trafford for the first time since his sacking in April 2014 end in disappointment, despite Fabio Borini's exquisite consolation strike.

"I knew someday I would either come up against the Manchester United players or work with some of them, Moyes said. "Hard place to come, hard place to get a result and it proved to be that again today."

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