In the mass overhaul at Manchester United in the summer, a whole host of word-class attacking players were brought in. Ander Herrera, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao were all signed by manager Louis Van Gaal in a bid to overturn the torrid campaign under David Moyes last year.
With the vast amount of talent at his disposal, there was always going to be someone who would miss out. A balance between the new players and the old ones was required, but in the process, someone would have to be demoted to the bench. That someone has turned out to be Juan Mata.
The Spaniard, signed from close-rivals Chelsea in January this year, has a very good record as a United player. His return of 9 goals from 20 appearances in the league is an extremely impressive one. Despite netting thrice this season though, he has been dropped to the bench in the last two games.
Jose Mourinho shocked one and all by dropping the Spaniard during his time at Stamford Bridge, despite the 26 year-old being the Blues’ best player in the past two seasons. Now, we know why the Portuguese manager did it.
Despite being a quality player, there are some very good reasons why Mata will never be able to hold down a first-team place regularly.
1) Lack of Versatility:
Juan Mata is the kind of player who thrives in a situation where he can receive the ball in space, look up and find a teammate. When played in the number 10 role behind the striker, he is at his best, scoring and making goals regularly. In any other midfield position though, he is quite ineffective. The current crop of players at United sees Wayne Rooney deployed in the number 10 role behind Robin Van Persie and Falcao. Seeing that Mata can’t be played as a winger ahead of Di Maria or in the deep-lying position ahead of Herrera or Daley Blind, Van Gaal has no option but to leave him on the bench.
2) Defensively Frail:
One of the major criticisms that Mourinho had of Mata was that he contributed close to nothing defensively. Tracking back is not one of the Spaniard’s strengths and there have been several occasions when he has lost his man and led to an opposition goal. A recent example of this is the first goal Swansea scored against United on the opening day of the season, when Mata failed to track Ki Sung-Yueng, and the Korean went on to score. Therefore, playing him against big sides is always a risk as it leaves his team open in midfield.
Chelsea’s current crop of attacking midfielders consists of Eden Hazard, Oscar and Willian. All these players put pressure on the opposition when chasing the ball. This helps Chelsea to play much higher up the pitch and win back the ball quicker. With Mata in the side, the opposition found it easy to take their time and pass it around in midfield.
3) Inhibits Other Players’ Effectiveness:
In the two seasons that Mata thrived at Chelsea, the whole team was built around him. This, undoubtedly, brought the best out of him personally, but the team didn’t really progress. A 6th-placed finish in the 2011/12 season is a testament to that fact. As Mata could only operate as a number 10, the likes of Oscar and Frank Lampard had to be played out-of-position. This, in turn, didn’t bring the best out of them.
Now, the very same thing is happening at Old Trafford as well. By playing Mata, Van Gaal will be forced to play at least one of the other big-names out-of-position. Falcao, Van Persie, Rooney and Di Maria need to play where they are most comfortable in order to provide their best to the team.
The £37 million that Chelsea got for the sale of Juan Mata now seems huge. He was deemed surplus to requirements by Mourinho, and now Mata is slowly being phased out at Manchester United as well.