Will Henrikh Mkhitaryan get a second chance at Manchester United?
On Tuesday, Chelsea loanee Juan Cuadrado scored Juventus' goal in their 1-0 Champions League win at Lyon. The following night, Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola decided he preferred Kevin De Bruyne as a "false No. 9" to selecting star striker Sergio Aguero at Barcelona. On Thursday, Mohamed Salah was launched from the bench while Roma were pegged back by Austria Vienna to draw 3-3. All that followed Romelu Lukaku scoring Everton's goal in their 1-1 draw at City last Saturday.
It is not difficult to find players cast aside by Jose Mourinho at Chelsea after only receiving the briefest sliver of opportunity. Cuadrado and Salah played 13 Premier League matches each, mostly from the bench, while at the beginning of the 2013-14 season, Lukaku was granted just two substitute appearances before being loaned to Everton. De Bruyne was kept on for longer, but made just three Premier League appearances before eventually joining Wolfsburg on a permanent deal.
Mourinho is the manager who once declared he could tell a player's worth within a mere 10 minutes. "You don't need five matches in a row," he said in August 2015. "In 10 minutes you can show me if you are ready or not."
With those players in mind, plus that infamous statement, there ought to be growing concern for the future of Henrikh Mkhitaryan at Manchester United. The Armenian playmaker was last seen in a United shirt on Sept. 10, before being withdrawn at half-time during a chastening 2-1 Manchester derby defeat to City, and was subsequently reported to have a thigh injury, a recurrence of a problem previously suffered while playing a 2018 World Cup qualifier against the Czech Republic on Aug. 31.
Mkhitaryan has been taking a full part in training for the last three weeks but was reduced to watching Thursday's 4-1 Europa League thrashing of Fenerbahce from the cushioned seats of Old Trafford's director's box. He is yet to make the substitutes' bench since that return.
Mourinho gave short shrift when asked the whereabouts of a player who had cost £26.3 million from Borussia Dortmund, for whom he scored 11 goals and supplied a Bundesliga-leading 16 assists last season.
"One thing is [being] fit and not injured, another is match fitness, match intensity and [being] ready to play this game," said Mourinho. "I cannot play with everyone at the same time. Micky hasn't played in a long time, this team is a good team with a good intensity."
A quick road to a return looks blocked off. Jesse Lingard was also withdrawn at half-time against City, but has started four matches since, with a well-taken goal and a deft assist for Paul Pogba against Fenerbahce undoubtedly augmenting his future credentials. On the flanks, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford are being given regular chances while Ashley Young was brought in from the cold to deliver a hard-working performance in Monday's 0-0 draw at Liverpool. Even Memphis Depay, whose cameo bordered on the comedic on Thursday night, has been selected ahead of Mkhitaryan.
And at No. 10, Juan Mata, a player once given the cold shoulder by Mourinho at Chelsea but now flourishing under him at United, is already keeping out Wayne Rooney, with Pogba also having been tried in the position where Mkhitaryan played his best football in Germany.
Back in Germany, Mkhitaryan's troubles have been noted. "No," replied Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke when asked this if there was any sympathy for the former star. "Any intelligent player should consider in advance what kind of environment they are moving to."
That remark was angled towards Mkhitaryan's agent, Mino Raiola, who also took Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Pogba to Manchester in the summer, considerably enriching himself in the process. Mkhitaryan has been the odd man out.
Ibrahimovic's goals from the start of the season have kept him as undisputed first-choice striker, while Pogba's world-record £89.3m fee means Mourinho must persist with him, and he has done so doggedly, launching the latest of his broadsides at media "Einsteins" while praising the French midfielder's two-goal showing on Thursday night.
Mkhitaryan, meanwhile, already looks expendable. His continued absence seems to render him as an outsider at United while he may become the latest former Dortmund star to sink in new surroundings -- following on from the likes of Shinji Kagawa, Nuri Sahin and Mario Gotze, a trio now returned to Westphalia having struggled at United, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich respectively.
Beyond Mkhitaryan's thigh injury, his recent omissions raise the suggestion that he has become Mourinho's fall guy for the City defeat. During the 45 minutes he was granted, he lost possession 12 times, more than any other player on the field of play. History suggests that a second chance might not be swiftly forthcoming.
John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.