A few nice touches, and the occasional interesting glimmer is all we saw from Juan Mata yesterday at the Emirates.
Manchester United’s record signing failed to make a meaningful impression against Arsenal, and was hauled off at the 75th minute mark as David Moyes attempted to inject a little more vigour into his side.
But where did it go wrong for the diminutive Spaniard?
Mata is a player possessing of almost unlimited guile and invention, thriving just behind the striker, able to dictate the intricate attacking play in the final third.
Despite reports to the contrary, he is not a winger, and as we have seen in the last few weeks, if not utilised correctly, he can drift out of games, rarely showing off his enormous ability.
This is where Moyes’ biggest problem lies. The attacking triumvirate of Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and Juan Mata is not gelling. Against Arsenal, Rooney had one of his quietest games in the number 10 role, Van Persie fed on scraps, and Mata was pushed to the flanks.
It is this wide play that is crippling Mata at present, and inhibiting his bedding-in process at the club.
As you can see from the above diagram, the passes Mata received during the Arsenal game were predominantly in the wider areas, away from his favoured role behind the striker. He was a non-entity in and around the penalty area, as the gaping void here proves.
Rooney is most often played there by Moyes, and excluding last night’s poor display, the England man is often a superb operator from deep. But his inclusion forces Mata to the byline, severely limiting his ability to pick a final pass, or shoot at goal.
Mata attempted to come inside when playing passes, but in ineffectual areas. This remains the overwhelming issue with Mata at United, as with the 10 successful forward passes the 25-year-old made at the Emirates, only one can be considered a quintessential ‘Mata’ slip-through.
It is far too soon to say that Juan Mata is failing at United, but if the former Chelsea attacker is to be the man to save the champions’ flagging season, David Moyes will need to come up with permanent solution for his new star, and quickly.
What do you think? What can Moyes do to change Mata’s fortunes? Let me know in the comments below…