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What's the MATA with Louis van Gaal and Manchester United?

Juan Mata has been in and out of Manchester United’s starting eleven this season. But United fams would have expected to see him in the starting line up for the away clash with Swansea on Saturday afternoon, with United lacking an attacking flow in midfield during their previous games. But Louis van Gaal again failed to start Mata, preferring to play a diamond formation with Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie leading the line and Maruone Fellani, Ander Herrera, Angel Di Maria an Daley Blind in midfield.

Mata has had opportunities to impress van Gaal this season. He was handed a midfield role by the Dutchman after Wayne Rooney was sent off against West Ham United earlier in the campaign, but Mata failed to take the opportunity and instead put in some frustrating performances which was noted by the fans.

But what the 26-year-old does offer the Manchester United attacking line up is unselfish play, goals and assists and United are currently lacking these in abundance. According to Squawka in the 21 matches Mata has made an appearance he averages 90 percent pass completion and he’s created 29 clear cut chances for his team mates, scoring 5 goals. Mata picked up Chelsea’s Player of the Year award two years in a row before joining United and on his day he is up there with the very best midfielders in the league. So why is Juan Mata not starting for his club week in week out?

Well I suppose you have to ask the question, where does he fit? Louis van Gaal has spoken a number of times about Wayne Rooney and how the United captain is undroppable for Manchester United. In my mind this is a mistake from the manager as every player is droppable and I don’t care if their Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie or Roy Keane. This causes a problem for Mata because he is ‘arguably’ the best player in that number ten role and even when he does start he is forced to fit around Rooney. Both Rooney and Mata are similar in terms of distribution, but Rooney’s first touch has been woeful and slows the game down. Mata may not be quick but he can deliver pin point passes and his thought process is often quicker than Rooney. If you compare the two players on squawka Wayne averages just 86 percent pass completion and he’s made more defensive errors. What Rooney does give you is hard work and resilience, he has ‘understandably’ won more aerial duals than Mata and he’s created 4 more chances, but he’s also started 5 more games than the Spaniard.

My suggestion would be start Rooney up top, or he doesn’t start. Mata averages more chances per game in that number 10 role so why not leave Wayne or even Robin out on the odd occasion? Play Mata where he is best and if it isn’t working change it.

The other issue for Mata has been the resurgence of Maroune Fellaini who’s performances have given van Gaal the instinctive to start him ahead of Mata and up until the defeat to Swansea Fellaini has been brilliant. But in a game like Saturday’s where the ref is blowing up every second for a foul because Fellaini has ‘Peter Crouch syndrome’ and every ‘one on one’ challenge is given against him, you have to change it and bring on a player who is more accustomed to having the ball at their feet. In the end Mata did come on but not for the right player nor in the right role.

There has been a lot of talk on van Gaal’s philosophy, not playing the United way and a lack natural width. But the real concern is when the manager is not playing his best players in their best positions. United’s superstars should all be droppable if not on form, no player is bigger than the club. If players are not performing drop them, simple, when united have a better squad than most of the teams in the hunt for a top four finish it’s a bit puzzling, so why are they not using the full extent of their squad?

Now van Persie looks set for a spell on the sidelines you would expect Juan Mata to start. LVG must have the courage to play him and utilise his strengths rather than focusing on his weaknesses.

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By Sophie Flynn

Sophie Flynn is a freelance journalist and blogger from Anglo-Irish roots. Her obsession with United started in 1994 and she's been a regular match goer ever since. Her favourite players include Eric Cantona, Roy Keane and Denis Irwin.

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