Manchester United’s tactical plans for Juan Mata


Manchester United are on the verge of signing Juan Mata from Chelsea, if the reports are to be believed. I seriously don’t know how to react to it.

Getting right kinds of player for right kind of money is some-what difficult in January. Naturally, a question comes to mind here is why David Moyes wants Mata of all players in the winter market?


Mata is a class player. No doubt. He will improve any team in this world and I’m sure, if properly used, he will deliver for Manchester United as well. Yes, if properly used.

But is he the right type of player Man Utd need now? Last thing the Red Devils need (after all the trouble they have had on pitch thus far) is another turbulent transfer window, where Moyes has to buy a player for the sake of it, to appease the football fans.

Hence, I think, this transfer would be more a statement than anything else. After last summer, there were talks that United have lost that aura of attracting quality players – by buying Mata, Moyes probably wants to prove that notion wrong.

Manchester United need a central midfielder. We all know that. But, getting a quality central midfielder at this moment is not easy. Realistically, how can you get top players from Juventus and Atletico now? Players like Vidal, Pogba, Koke etc are all fighting for league titles – why would they squander such bathing in glory now? We understand that, but, why an attacking midfielder? And most importantly Why Mata?

Mata is a classic no 10, who loves to operate behind the striker. Manchester United already have Wayne Rooney and Shinji Kagawa for that position, while young Januzaj is seen as future no 10 as well. How would you expect him to grow properly by playing him constantly out of position? Most importantly, Moyes has simply failed to use Kagawa’s talent properly – what guarantee is there he would get the best out of Mata?

Mata can play on the wings as well, but he is not an ideal winger, and doesn’t have the extra burst of pace to play as conventional or as an inverted wingers that can outrun the full-backs.

Manchester United are probably the only club in the history of Premier League, where wing-play (Beckham, Ronaldo, Giggs, Best et al) has been given so much predominance. Moyes continuing with that tradition has tried to use the wing-play effectively.

So, how Mata will be used? Andy Cole puts it aptly:

“If you look at Manchester United’s history, they’ve always played with wingers, they’ve always played attacking football. I can’t see them changing their philosophy; the team’s been built on an attacking 4-4-2. But, for sure, Mata can operate in a 4-4-2. I think he’s more than intelligent enough to play in a 4-4-2 or a 4-5-1; he’ll look to get on the ball, as he’s always done.”

Here, in a typical 4-4-2 formation, Mata can be used a conventional left-winger like Ryan Giggs. His job will be to deliver crosses in from the left.


Here, in the same formation Mata can be used as an inverted winger like say Arjen Robben of Bayern Munich. He will drift towards the centre and shoot with his preferred left foot.


The thing with Rooney is he brings lot more to the game therefore playing as no 10 brings out the best in him. Can Moyes use Mata as a false winger?

False wingers are those types of wingers who hug the touchline only when their name is found on the team-sheet. The best example is Andres Iniesta or may be Marco Reus.


The 4-2-3-1 is a complex one, really, where, ideally Mata should be played in the hole to get the best out of him. Otherwise, drifting him wide in such a system is a waste, because, he doesn’t track back enough to help the full-backs.

The problem with this system is if Mata is given the no 10 role, either Rooney or Van Persie will have to make way, which I think would be a tough call from the Manchester United boss.

mata 4

Can Moyes try something different? How about a diamond system? United have played that before under Sir Alex Ferguson last season and putting Mata on the apex of diamond won’t do any harm either.

The key thing here is tactical flexibility. Moyes is primarily a reactive manager who is not known for his huge tactical influence on the game. If Moyes continues with his rigid systems, then getting the best out of Mata would be difficult, but a more flexible approach could see the Spaniard gelling into the system nicely.

Oh, yes, hasta-la-vista Shinji Kagawa.

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