Is Juan Mata Jose Mourinho's best midfield option at Manchester United?
The relationship between Jose Mourinho and Juan Mata has been a topsy-turvy one, to say the least. When The Special One made a dramatic return for his second spell in charge of Chelsea in July 2013, Mata was in the middle of a highly successful spell at the club. Having already won the FA Cup, Europa League and, of course, the Champions League, the appointment of Mourinho almost certainly meant the Spaniard would continue to enjoy unbridled success.
Unfortunately for the Spaniard, he would leave the club in January 2014. Deemed surplus to requirements under Mourinho for his lack of width and defensive capabilities, Mata joined Premier League rivals Manchester United. As chance would have it, though, two and a half years later, the two are now reunited at Old Trafford, with Mourinho taking over from Louis Van Gaal in the summer of 2016.
It’s been an indifferent start to the season, suffice to say, for Mourinho’s men, with certain individuals – including a handful of midfielders – coming under scrutiny. Could it be that Juan Mata, once sold by Jose Mourinho at Chelsea to Manchester United, is the most influential and possibly the best midfielder the Portuguese head coach has at the club?
When Mourinho and Mata first came together at Chelsea in the summer of 2013, the Spanish midfielder was a fan favourite at Stamford Bridge. The little maestro had just helped the London outfit win the Europa League in the previous season, and also picked up individual accolades including the club’s Player of the Year award and a place on the Premier League team of the year.
All these plaudits came as Mata had a starring number 10 role, a position he clearly flourished in. Whilst he isn’t a player graced with a huge amount of pace, he has the ability to glide across the football pitch effortlessly and often picks up little pockets of space which many players simply struggle to find. He demonstrated this weekly to Chelsea fans, who were in awe of his talents.
In his two and half years with the Blues, Mata boasted a return of 33 goals and 58 assists in 135 appearances. He also made his big game presence felt, with a goal and two assists in the 2012 FA Cup semi-final against Tottenham, along with an assist in the final as Chelsea went on to win the tournament after beating Liverpool.
He also provided the assist for the unforgettable Didier Drogba header versus Bayern Munich as Chelsea won the 2012 Champions League. Considering his small stature, some of his more notable goals in his time at Chelsea certainly packed a punch. Some splendid long range efforts were scored against rival teams, including a couple against Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham – just one of many attributes that Juan Mata showcased in his time at Stamford Bridge.
However, under Mourinho at Chelsea, Mata fell out of favour and by the time the January transfer window came along he was shipped to Manchester United. Despite paying a fairly hefty £37 million, United were confident they had acquired a top midfielder in Mata. The fact the Spaniard was sold to a rival club, perhaps showcased how Mourinho genuinely felt about Mata and his overall quality.
It didn’t take long though for him to make an impression at Old Trafford, as he provided an assist on his debut in a home victory over Cardiff City. It was an assured performance, showing little signs of a knock in confidence after what he had endured the previous half of the season. Mata finished the season with six goals in the Premier League for Manchester United, a tidy return which highlighted his impressive start for the Red Devils.
In his time at Old Trafford so far, Mata has seen the likes of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Angel Di Maria join and endure torrid times at the club. It speaks volumes of Mata that whilst midfielders with a world class reputation have recently failed to settle and perform in Manchester, he continues to shine with his solid displays.
The latest world class players to join the Spaniard at United include Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, both attacking midfielders bought in this summer by Jose Mourinho, and who were expected to unfairly take Mata’s first team spot. Whilst they both haven’t started as well as expected for Manchester United, Mata has continued to play and impress for Mourinho’s men.
His midfield displays, whether in a more attacking position or in a holding role, have been typically effortless and phlegmatic. He has continued to find those pockets of space that lead to goal scoring opportunities; Mata has created 21 clear-cut chances already this season. Whilst Mata himself has scored three times so far this season, the team, in general, have found scoring hard to come by.
Perhaps if a little more faith and responsibility was handed to Juan Mata, the little Spaniard could well change the fortunes of Manchester United’s season for the better. Whether Mourinho will implement this, however, is a different story.
Featured Image: All Rights Reserved by laurent lairys.
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