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Mkhitaryan: Premier League struggles down to happiness

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Sometimes, a footballer’s lack of success can come down to happiness.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan says that’s the case with his tumultuous time with Arsenal and Manchester United following a high profile transfer from Borussia Dortmund in 2016.

[ MORE: Spurs’ Lo Celso injured ]

Mkhitaryan, now 30, arrived on the heels of 23-goal, 32-assist season (!!!), and failed to reach those totals over three seasons between Old Trafford and the Emirates.

The Armenian captain is hoping that a loan to Roma changes his fortunes, because he simply hasn’t felt home in the Premier League.

From Sky Sports:

“I have to enjoy playing football, no matter the place. In England, I no longer felt happy,” he said. “I got a call from my agent and I wanted to come, because it was a great opportunity for me. I didn’t even have a discussion with my agent about money. Maybe I was not fitting so well in English football, so I think a change was good.”

Mkhitaryan is branding his time in Roma “an opportunity to be seized.”

Jimenez, Jota lead Wolves to Europa League blowout

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Nothing’s impossible, but Wolves built an improbable lead after one leg to take a step closer to the Europa League group stage.

Mexican striker Raul Jimenez scored twice and Diogo Jota had three assists as Wolves buried Armenian side Pyunik 4-0 in Yerevan on Thursday.

[ MORE: PL transfer grades ]

The second leg comes at the Molineux in one week, and Wolves begin the Premier League season on Sunday morning with a visit to Leicester City (Watch live, 9 a.m. ET on CNBC and online via NBCSports.com)

Matt Doherty and Ruben Neves also scored, as Wolves led 2-0 at the break following Raul’s 42nd minute goal. He completed his brace one minute after halftime.

Should Wolves manage its lead, it will have to win more round to reach the group stage.

Netherlands wins, relegates Germany

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Ronald Koeman‘s Netherlands sent Germany into League B, and moved a draw away from the semifinals after taking care of the World Cup champions in the highlight of Friday’s UEFA Nations League matches.

[ WATCH: Salah scores stoppage time winner ]


Netherlands 2-0 France

Georginio Wijnaldum was in a prime position to slot in a rebound after Hugo Lloris made a save on Ryan Babel, and Memphis Depay converted a stoppage time panenka penalty as Netherlands’ win sent Germany into League B.

The Dutch are still alive for A1, and can make the semifinals with a win over Germany on Monday.

Wales 1-2 Denmark

An even match saw Denmark score off a counterattack, with Nicolai Jorgensen supplying the finish off put the Danes ahead of the hosts. Martin Brathwaite made it 2-0 in the 88th minute, with Gareth Bale‘s goal the only Welsh answer a minute later.

Denmark goes top of Group B4, and end Wales’ hopes of promotion to League A. It’s Denmark into the “top flight” next cycle, and the nation is guaranteed at least a playoff spot in qualification for EURO 2020.

Gibraltar 2-6 Armenia

Former Real Salt Lake attacker Yura Movsisyan scored four for captain Henrikh Mkhitaryan‘s side.

Elsewhere
Cyprus 1-1 Bulgaria
Slovenia 1-1 Norway
Liechtenstein 0-2 Macedonia
Slovakia 4-1 Ukraine

Europa League preview: Chelsea, Arsenal heavy favorites

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It comes as little surprise that Arsenal would not send all of its stars to Azerbaijan for its meeting at Qarabag, though two of the reasons are relatively rare.

For Welsh star Aaron Ramsey, it’s a happy one: His wife is set to give birth.

[ MORE: Messi’s Wembley masterclass ]

But Armenian captain Henrikh Mkhitaryan will not travel because of hostility between Armenia and Azerbaijan that robbed him of a Champions League appearance when he was with Borussia Dortmund in 2015.

UEFA said Mkhitaryan could travel, but the player will stay behind. And Qarabag coach Gurban Gurbanov, also the manager of the Azerbaijan national team, is piling on. From The London Standard:

“If Henrikh Mkhitaryan would come to Azerbaijan it is not the first time and until now a lot of Armenian sportsman came to Azerbaijan but it is the choice of Arsenal that they didn’t send. … Arsenal may be afraid that in front of 60,000 Azerbaijani fans, Mkhitaryan has some pressure and that is why they didn’t send Mkhitaryan.”

Yikes. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will also stay behind, but Arsenal is still heavily favored to move to 2-0 in Europa League play.

London rivals Chelsea are home for a visit from Hungarian side MOL Vidi (you may remember them as Videoton).

The favored Blues will be expected to easily win given that MOL Vidi lost 2-0 at home to BATE Borisov in the opener, but Maurizio Sarri finds himself asking questions about whether Chelsea can persevere when it comes to facing Southampton in the Premier League this weekend.

“I don’t think at West Ham we didn’t win because of the match in Greece. We changed a lot of players so I don’t think the reason was that. Of course tomorrow we need to change some players because we have spent a lot of mental and physical energy in two games against Liverpool, and after tomorrow we have to play another game in about 60 to 62 hours so we need to change.”

Full schedule

10:50 a.m. ET
Astana vs. Rennes

12:55 p.m. ET
Bayer Leverkusen vs. AEK Larnaca
AC Milan vs. Olympiacos
Real Betis vs. F91 Dudelange
Zenit Saint-Petersburg vs. Slavia Prague
Red Bull Salzburg vs. Celtic
Zurich vs. Ludogorets Razgrad
Rosenborg vs. RB Leipzig
Vorskla Poltava vs. Sporting CP
Anderlecht vs. Dinamo Zagreb
Fenerbahce vs. Spartak Trnava
Bordeaux vs. FC Copenhagen
Qarabag vs. Arsenal

3 p.m. ET
Spartak Moscow vs. Villarreal
Standard Liege vs. Akhisar Belediyespor
Malmo vs. Besiktas
Chelsea vs. MOL Vidi
Eintracht Frankfurt vs. Lazio
Jablonec vs. Dynamo Kiev
BATE Borisov vs. PAOK
Apollon Limassol vs. Marseille
Krasnodar vs. Sevilla
Sarpsborg vs. Genk
Rangers vs. Rapid Vienna

Mkhitaryan goes in-depth to detail his journey to Manchester

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Henrikh Mkhitaryan has had a long, winding road to get to Manchester United.

[ MORE: United v Hull in EFL Cup semis ]

The Armenian playmaker, 27, shone at Borussia Dortmund over the past few seasons and was crowned the Bundesliga player of the season for 2015-16 before joining Jose Mourinho’s revlution at Old Trafford this summer.

Life has been up and down to start with for Mkhitaryan in Manchester but as he details in this terrific first-person piece with The Players’ Tribune, it has been much worse.

Below is a snippet from the story as Mkhitaryan details the moment his family moved back to Armenia from France, where his father had been a striker for second division side Valence.

Powerful and very moving.

When I was six years old, my parents told me that we were moving back home to Armenia. I didn’t really understand what was happening. My father had stopped playing football, and he was at home all the time.

I didn’t know it, but my father had a brain tumor. Everything happened very fast. Within a year, he was gone. Because I was so young, I didn’t completely understand the concept of death.

I remember seeing my mother and older sister always crying, and I would ask them, “Where is my father?” No one could explain what was going on.

Day by day, they started to tell to me what had happened.

I remember my mother saying, “Henrikh, he will never be with us.”

And I thought, Never? Never is such a long time when you are seven years old.

We had a lot of videotapes of him playing in France, and I would watch them very often to remember him. Two, three times a week I would watch his matches, and it would give me a lot of happiness, especially when the camera showed him when he was celebrating a goal or hugging his teammates.

On those videotapes, my father lived on.

I think we can all agree that his father, Hamlet Mkhitaryan, will be very proud of all his son has achieved thus far in his career.

And following Henrik’s assists and man of the match display in United’s win against West Ham in the EFL Cup on Wednesday, he is finally settling in at Old Trafford.