Why starting Juan Mata makes sense for Manchester United, but isn't a long-term option
Manchester United have had a great start to the season and look to have their swagger back under Jose Mourinho. It was expected that the Portuguese manager would make several changes to the squad and the style of play, which he has done. One major surprise has been the prominent role that Juan Mata has played, starting all three league matches on the right wing. The Spaniard played under Mourinho at Chelsea and was quickly shown the door as the two didn’t click. A similar resolution was expected at Old Trafford this summer, especially after he was brought on then subbed off during the Community Shield. However, he is in the first team at the moment and is performing well for the most part.
During the summer, Henrikh Mkhitaryan joined from Borussia Dortmund and he was seen as the best option to start the season on the right, but he has been used as a substitute so far. At Dortmund, it took Mkhitaryan over a year to properly settle at the club. Initially, the fans weren’t convinced by the Armenian international and this may have contributed to how he is being used at Manchester United. Mourinho recognises that Mkhitaryan is a player that needs time to adjust after making a move and he is managing him accordingly.
The decision to start Mata for the beginning of the season is a wise one from Mourinho for several reasons. Firstly, it allows Mkhitaryan to settle into English football and learn the style of play, without being under extreme pressure to perform. Secondly, the Armenian will be fully rested and could have a devastating impact when he is unleashed in the first team. And finally, it will mean that Mata’s value doesn’t depreciate, as it remains likely that he will still be sold within the next 12 months.
Despite Mata not being a typical Jose Mourinho winger, he isn’t performing badly and could even be a better option for the opening months of the season. He is already familiar with the style of play that Manchester United will be playing and he is a proven performer in the Premier League. Although he has only created one chance, he has worked hard and his link up play has been impressive, with a pass accuracy of 86.9%. The Spaniard has also contributed a goal in the opening match against Bournemouth. He has played well, but in the long term Mkhitaryan is surely going to replace him in the starting eleven.
Last season, the former Dortmund winger performed at an elite level consistently, scoring 11 goals and contributing 15 assists. It is unlikely that Mata will be able to produce those numbers, especially in a Jose Mourinho side. He has struggled to create chances during the first three matches and Mkhitaryan would be offer the dynamism that Mata lacks. Manchester United are already striking fear into opposition sides and they will continue to improve over the coming months. Mkhitaryan is going to be a crucial part of what Mourinho is building at Old Trafford and it is a great strategical move to hold him back. Mourinho wants to keep an ace up his sleeve and it will concern rival managers that United have three wins on the board, despite not picking their strongest eleven.
It has been a surprise that Juan Mata has started all three league matches and it has left some believing that he could have a future at Old Trafford. I don’t think that is likely as Mourinho has always been ruthless and hasn’t changed his mind often throughout his managerial career. Juan Mata hasn’t improved since leaving Chelsea and still lacks the qualities that Mourinho looks for in a winger. The Manchester United manager respects Mata and realises that he has something to offer in the short term as Mkhitaryan adjusts to the league, but by the start of next season, it would be a surprise if the Spaniard hasn’t left the club.
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