Henrikh Mkhitaryan the difference maker for Dortmund - And can take them further

Heinrich Mkhitaryan

The player Liverpool tried to sign in the summer put on a superb show for the German challengers, helping his side score three times past Reds loanee Pepe Reina.

Borussia Dortmund defeated Napoli 3-1 at the Signal Iduna Park to set up what could be a quite sensational final Champions League match day in Group F on December 11th where Arsenal, Napoli and the German side could all finish on 12 points.

Arsenal and Napoli face off in Naples with the Italian side needing a win to move level with the Gunners on 12 points whilst Dortmund need to defeat basement boys Marseille to also reach that tally.

The Germans should be indebted to Armenian international Henrikh Mkhitaryan that they still find themselves in the equation as he was at the heart of everything good for the Black and Yellow on Tuesday night.

He didn’t contribute an assist or find the net but that was more to do with the wayward shooting from his team mates and the performance of Pepe Reina rather than his own efforts.

Mkhitaryan, and Nuri Sahin it has to be said, were the driving force behind this crucial victory which put to an end the mini-slump Jürgen Klopp’s team had found themselves on – three consecutive defeats – and helped banish the memories of last weekend’s lost to Bayern Munich.

It was a flat start from Dortmund with their normally deafening crowd a few decibels quieter than normal but two ‘old boys’ combined, Robert Lewandowski winning a spot kick and Marco Reus dispatching it, to give them an early lead.

The summer signing from Shakhtar Donetsk then should have had an assist to his name when his majestic reverse pass, which nutmegged Federico Fernández, found Lewandowski but the Pole inexplicitly fired wide.

The German side weren’t vintage though, the pressing was evident but Napoli were taking advantage of gaps that continued appearing in the make-shift Dortmund defence.

José Callejón nearly made them pay as he feinted past a blooded Sven Bender but could only watch his shot agonizingly smack off the post and Klopp’s side survived.

Grabbing the match by the scruff of the neck, Mkhitaryan picked the ball up ghosted past several Napoli defenders before Reina was able to push his shot away to safety.

Lewandowski missed another great chance for BVB but they made it to half time a goal ahead, largely thanks to the invention and industry of their number 10.

In the first 45, the 24-year-old had more key passes (3) and more dribbles (3) than any player on either side. He didn’t shirk his defensive responsibility either, making two tackles and adding in a clearance and interception apiece.

After almost singlehandedly dragging Dortmund into half time with a lead, Mkhitaryan’s team mates come to the fore for the second period.

They started strongly. Firstly Reus dragged a shot wide, then Dortmund’s man of the match perfectly teed up Jakub Błaszczykowski but instead of shooting he tried to create the perfect goal and the chance was wasted.

The Armenian then ran and ran, leaving several Napoli players in his wake but Reina once again stood firm and made a critical save.

Two minutes after that chance the game changing moment arrived. Gonzalo Higuain went through on goal but Roman Weidenfeller crucial blocked and moments after that the Champions League finalists doubled their lead.

It was classic counter attacking football and vintage Dortmund. Lewandowski released Reus, he drove forward before angling the ball into space where Błaszczykowski side footed through Reina’s legs.

The move evoked memories of a goal Tottenham scored against Inter Milan at White Hart Lane a few season ago and the side foot finish was reminiscent of the eastern European who scored then, Roman Pavlyuchenko.

The English team won 3-1 that night and that would be the final scoreline here as although Lorenzo Insigne pulled one back for Napoli, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang raced away from his marker and made it 3-1.

A goal for Mkhitaryan would have been the icing on the cake for his performance and it nearly came after another trademark run but a combination of Reina and the post denied him.

It meant despite his superb performance when the full time whistle went he had nothing to show for it, no assist or goal but that wasn’t to matter. It was his drive, especially in the first half when Dortmund struggled, that was key.

When Mario Götze moved to Bayern in the summer, BVB fans feared he could never be replaced but the Mkhitaryan is proving to be worth €27.5 million and more.

He appears to improve with every passing match and has already left a lasting impression on the Black and Yellow fans with a man of the match display in the Revierderby against Schalke.

Five goals and five assists in his first 16 games for the club is an impressive return and expect the Armenian international to continue getting better and better because Dortmund have found a rough diamond in Micki.

image: © Валерий Дудуш

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