It would perhaps be an understatement to say that the Manchester United fans were happy after the club managed to lure Spanish superstar Juan Mata to Old Trafford during the January transfer window last season and understandably so.
After all, Mata had arguably been the best play maker in the Premier League following a couple of scintillating campaigns for Chelsea since his arrival to England in 2011 and the United faithful simply could not believe their luck when Jose Mourinho decided to do the Red Devils a favour, albeit an expensive one at £37million, by allowing the midfielder to join one of his rival clubs.
Nonetheless, the arrival of Mata at United last season went a long way to lift the doom and gloom surrounding the club under the hapless tutelage of former manager David Moyes and it was widely expected that the Spaniard would be the catalyst in lifting the Red Devils up from the doldrums.
Just over a year on from Mata’s much hyped arrival though; the Spaniard puzzlingly looks set for an unceremonious exit from Old Trafford. So what gone wrong for the best play maker in the Premier League in a team who are desperate for a creative spark?
An underwhelming start
With Manchester United struggling to perform under David Moyes, the arrival of a player of Mata’s caliber was supposed to galvanize the Red Devils and help facilitate their late bid for a Champions League finish.
However, Mata did not quite have the desired impact and could not inspire the United revival. Perhaps due to rustiness after having been denied handed regular first team football at Chelsea during the first half of the season or maybe because of adaptation problems to new surroundings, Mata simply struggled to get going at United initially.
Another reason which certainly did not help Mata to produce his best was David Moyes’ baffling idea to use him out wide rather than hand him a central role.
His stats of 6 goals (0.4 per game) and 5 assists (0.33 per game) in just 15 matches for United during the second part of the 2013/14 season looked impressive on paper but his performances on the pitch told a completely different story.
Rather than playing as the creative hub of the team, Mata was often on the periphery and most of the goals that he did score, came from set pieces or were simple tap-ins.
A false revival
While Mata did not enjoy the best of starts at United, he could be forgiven as in all fairness – the Red Devils simply were woeful during the 2013/14 campaign and it would have been unfair to criticize the Spaniard as he joined what was essentially a sinking ship.
The 2014/15 season started with renewed optimism for United as the wily Louis van Gaal was appointed as manager of the club and the experienced Dutchman had been hailed as the messiah to start the renaissance at Old Trafford.
Even for Mata, the arrival of van Gaal was a chance to start on a clean slate and show his real worth to the United fans – especially with the luxury of playing alongside footballing superstars such as Wayne Rooney, Angel Di Maria, Robin van Persie and Radamel Falcao in what looked a brilliant attacking lineup.
Much like last season though, it has proven to be an anticlimactic campaign for United as well as Mata so far. Van Gaal has surprisingly struggled to make much of an improvement at United despite spending ludicrous amounts of money on new players and in turn, Mata has still not been able to produce his best in a struggling team.
|Mata in Numbers (2014/15)|
|Avg. Pass Length||16m|
|Total Chances Created||28|
Once again, his stats of 5 goals and 3 assists from 20 matches look decent at first glance but his performances have been less than satisfactory.
Despite being handed numerous chances to impress in his favourite central position, Mata has flattered to deceive and the fact that Wayne Rooney has been sacrificed to be deployed in the Spaniard’s play maker role in recent times, just serves to epitomize how far the 26-year old has fallen.
Now, Mata looks like the shiny piece who simply does not fit the puzzle at United and there have already been reports that the Spanish superstar could well be dumped by the club in the upcoming summer – with Atletico Madrid and Barcelona said to be interested.
Why Mata was a star at Chelsea but is a misfit at United
Mata’s struggles at United is simply baffling as there is no doubting that he is a top class player and his spell at Chelsea was a testament to this fact.
During his first two seasons at Chelsea, Mata boasted whopping stats of 31 goals and 55 assists and it would not be an exaggeration to state that he was the most crucial player in the Blues’ Champions League as well as Europa Cup triumphs.
The reason why Mata flourished at Chelsea was probably due to the fact that he was used as a fulcrum of the side. Yes, the likes of Eden Hazard and Oscar were also the creative players who were vital to Chelsea but most of the Blues’ attack originated from the brilliant Spaniard.
With work horses Ramires and Frank Lampard providing the shield, Mata was allowed to roam around in the attacking positions while the pace of Hazard helped stretch the opposition defences out wide and in turn allowed the play maker more space to weave his magic centrally.
|Mata in Numbers (2012/13) – At Chelsea|
|Avg. Pass Length||17m|
|Total Chances Created||95|
Things are very different for Mata at United though. Long gone are days when the Red Devils boasted a defensive midfielder like Roy Keane or a dashing wing wizard in the ilk of Ryan Giggs.
Nowadays, the midfield seems to be the glaring problem for United and even the traditional wing play which the Premier League giants were famous for is almost non-existent. As a result, Mata is not afforded the same luxury he was at Chelsea and his creativity has been limited due to the fact that he is not allowed much space.
In addition, Mata himself has to also look at himself in the mirror for not performing up to his optimal level and despite the circumstances not being ideal for him; the midfielder should be putting in much better displays than he has done so far.
In defence of Mata
That being said though, there is still hope for Mata and Manchester United would be committing a huge blunder if they let him leave.
Yes, Mata has failed to live up to the expectation at Old Trafford but his class is still undoubted and if he can be used properly – there are very few creative players in the world who are as good as him.
It is easy to point the finger at only Mata but in fairness, the entire Manchester United squad has performed poorly this season and it would be unfair to label him as a scapegoat for the club’s failings this season.
Mata can still be a star at United but in order to do so, it is of paramount importance that United play better as a unit and use the midfielder properly rather than shifting him out on to the fringes.