When I saw the line-up for the Newcastle game on Wednesday evening I was somewhat bemused not to see Juan Mata’s name. The World Cup winner had been directly involved in 4 of United’s last 7 goals vs Newcastle, including a scintillating performance in the same fixture last season when he scored two goals, got an assist and looked a pivotal part of Man United’s team. Yet this season’s game at St James Park he replaced Fellaini in the last 10 minutes (perhaps coincidently, a period when United scored the winner) in a very flat game crying out for creativity and invention. One wonders what the score would have been if he’d started.
Instead the manager opted for Maroaune Fellaini, who failed to offer quality service to lone-striker Wayne Rooney, to partner Angel Di Maria (following his much laboured display against Sunderland) and on-form Ashley Young, in the attacking areas Mata normally thrives in.
Delving further into Mata’s career statistics, I am further confused as to how he isn’t a regular starter for United. To name a few:
- In the last 4 Premier League seasons, Juan Mata has 51 assists; 14 ahead of anyone else – bearing in mind a lot of that time was at Chelsea where he played behind a certain Fernando Torres – whom wasn’t prolific as we know!
- In Mata’s final full season at Chelsea he racked up 21 goals and 35 assists in 38 games.
- The Spanish playmaker has 104 goals and 137 assists in 378 career appearances.
- Having joined Manchester United 15 months ago, Mata has scored 11 goals and contributed 9 assists in 36 appearances – an impressive return considering it’s been the worst period in the club’s Premier League history.
In my humble opinion, the above stats suggests Juan Mata is a more than accomplished attacking playmaker, capable of weighing in with ample assists and goals when in the right position at any club. Yet he finds himself, rather harshly, out of favour at the second club in a row. Does Van Gaal think he’s a luxury player? Not industrious enough? Or perhaps he simply prefers the physicality Fellaini offers, despite his far inferior productivity levels, which in my opinion is slightly Moyes-eque. With all due respect, most Premier League sides should base their team selection on what will best nullify Manchester United’s strengths, not the other way around.
With United struggling to find the net of late, and lack of form being showed by Angel Di Maria, it seems a good time to freshen things up in attacking areas. Having Mata consistently in his preferred number 10 role, acting as a creative link between midfield and attack, maybe less of Falcao’s runs will be wasted, maybe with the absence of Fellaini up the field, long balls will be avoided, and maybe with Mata, proud owner of the best free kick record in Premier League history (17.9% conversion rate), on the pitch dangerous set pieces will be taken advantage of.
This season, despite no consistent place in the team, Mata has registered 5 goals and 3 assists – one of the best return from United’s midfielders. I can’t help but think if Mata had an extended run in the side, with the calibre of strikers we have and an on-form Di Maria/Young/Januzaj overlapping, he would create and score goals, as he has done throughout his career.
Being United’s only current player to have won the FA Cup and having directly been involved in 15 goals in 15 FA Cup games (6 goals, 9 assists), I’d be very surprised and somewhat disappointed if he is, yet again, left out against Arsenal on Monday night.