We should always regard statistics – a quantitative way of measuring a subjectively experienced game – with caution, but there are times when the numbers reflect an unquestionable truth about how a particular side operates.
Here is one: when Juan Mata and Henrikh Mkhitaryan have started together in the Premier League, Manchester United have won every time, averaging over three goals a game.
That win percentage drops from 100 to 20 for games for when the pair haven’t started together, with Jose Mourinho‘s men averaging less than a goal a game.
With that quite staggering statistic in mind, here is a potential XI for Man United’s clash with Newcastle United on Saturday featuring the aforementioned duo.
It is no surprise that United benefit from using Mata and Mkhitaryan in a close proximity, especially in home games where they can dictate the pace of proceedings more freely.
They work together in steady tandem in the centre of the pitch – carefully working angles, needling the the ball through tight spaces, slowly but surely picking the opponent apart.
This alone doesn’t unlock teams. The raw power of Marcus Rashford and Romelu Lukaku is needed to add the thrust, but make no mistake: the groundwork is done by the crafty, technically supreme pair, and Mourinho has missed that combination over the last month.