Has Juan Mata justified his move to Man Utd?
There is one great player whose career has gone for a roller coaster ride. Juan Mata, when he accepted the Player Of The Year award for the 2012-13 season for an amazing haul of 20 goals and 35 assists throughout the season in all competitions for Chelsea, would have never envisaged a future where he would be a bits and pieces player, let alone in the red of Manchester! Mata has been hit by a tremendous wave of misfortune that has stalled him in his prime.
Let us all get back to how he was sensationally sold by Chelsea to rivals Manchester United. Mata failed to establish himself as the main player under Mourinho. Though Oscar is not a traditional playmaker like Mata, Mourinho still found him better suited for his plans of pressing and counter attacking. Mata was uprooted from Rafa Benitez’s passing based system which won the club the Europa League. The team was now a brutal force of physical attacking with the midfield and defense working extremely hard and Eden Hazard being the man providing all the flair down the left wing.
Manchester United had been struggling in the league with an upper mid-table position and David Moyes needed an immediate transfer to salvage some of his pride and show some hopes to the frustrated United fans. Juan Mata was available, as he was clearly tired of being the squad rotation player in Chelsea and Moyes decided to go for the lad, and then considered arguably the best Chelsea player despite the apparent lack of game-time or work rate from the Spaniard.
Life at Man Utd.
Mata found some crucial game time under David Moyes to get his World Cup hopes back as he stepped up with some crucial goals and assists to end 13-14 season with 6 goals and 4 assists from 15 games, instantly endearing him to the fans despite the club’s lowly 7th finish in comparison to the Red Devils’ lofty ambitions.
But ever since Louis van Gaal’s tenure started at Man Utd, and with a stupefying influx of world class attackers and a defensive midfielder, one could now imagine Mata being isolated once more. United broke their transfer record by signing Real Madrid midfielder Angel Di Maria for 59.7m pounds. One midfield spot had to be given to the big signing. What followed was a loan signing of superstar Radamel Falcao. With Van Persie and Wayne Rooney already in the team, the addition of Falcao meant that United had three world class strikers and it was going to be an issue managing the team balance and the egos.
As expected, Van Gaal adopted a 3 man defence or else a 4-4-2 diamond with a clear plan of playing two strikers. Van Persie and Falcao were the forwards while Rooney the one who occupied the role in the attacking midfield spot, which Mata plays. Mata did find himself playing at the tip of the diamond, when Rooney was suspended or Falcao was injured, and thanks to the latter being very often, Mata got some decent games under his belt.
Though time and again, we have seen the Falcao-Van Persie duo being regressive, and something which goes against the balance, which has forced United fans into questioning the manager’s tactics. One would imagine Wayne Rooney partnering either of the strikers while United’s second most expensive player plays as the advanced playmaker helping the team gel together and create chances. Well, that would have been too easy for Louis van Gaal had Mata been that good enough.
Mata has had 17 starts in the Premier League, thanks to the tactical indecisiveness of the manager or the injury/lack of form of Falcao, and has made 6 substitute appearances. But in normal circumstances, United’s midfield features Di Maria, Rooney, Blind, and two wing backs. Mata is not perceived to be good enough in comparison to Rooney in an attacking midfield role, despite being a traditional central attacking midfielder.
Conclusion and The Verdict:
There is no doubt about Mata’s talents. He has got it in him to lead a top side’s midfield with his vision, dribbling and passing skills as he so excellently demonstrated in Chelsea. A team contending for the top four positions would love having him in their line-up. But he comes with flaws as well. Mata cannot play as effectively in the wider positions as much as he does when played right behind the striker. With his apparent lack of defensive discipline and work rate, Mata playing at Central Attacking Midfield is the only way of accommodating him and getting the best out of him while maintaining the team’s balance.
Unfortunately for Juan Mata, he has not justified his mega move to Man Utd. Louis van Gaal, despite all his criticism, is an experienced manager and has not placed Mata in his first choice 11. Mata has been a bench player for Man Utd and has lost his dominance and influence on the team, which he had when he cruised at Chelsea under Benitez. Mata should have proved his credentials to make van Gaal think twice and avoid buying Falcao on loan, as we very well came to know since the start, that Mata is bound to struggle to get game-time when the team is fully fit.