With cup success and a top-four finish in the Premier League still a real possibility for Manchester United in the second half of the season, a January move for Chelsea’s Juan Mata could inject creativity into an otherwise lifeless squad.
Wayne Rooney and Adnan Januzaj have harboured the responsibility of United’s attacking play this season—particularly as Robin van Persie has been injured for long spells—so a move for the diminutive Spaniard makes sense.
Mata could be the catalyst for success.
There are plenty of stumbling blocks to any potential deal, of course, but David Moyes should, at the very least, consider trying to sign one of the Premier League’s best players over the last two seasons. Jose Mourinho’s admission that the “door is open” for Mata to leave Chelsea, per Jeremy Wilson of The Telegraph, is all the invitation Moyes should need.
Mata’s Attacking Flair is What United Crave
In the opening five months of this campaign, two things have become apparent with this United team led by Moyes—the midfield is mediocre and the attack is far too predictable. Both are pressing concerns looking ahead.
Mata would address the second of those concerns in some fashion. Per Squawka, only Manchester City’s David Silva has created more chances than Mata in the last three Premier League seasons.
In the last three Premier League seasons, only David Silva has created more chances (249) than Juan Mata (227). Mata is on the bench today.— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 29, 2013
There’s more, too, because Mata’s creativity translates into results; the Spaniard is one of the leading assist providers currently in the Premier League.
Juan Mata: Since joining Chelsea in August 2011, only David Silva (28) has provided more assists in the PL than Juan Mata (27) #CFC— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) January 3, 2014
That’s particularly admirable given his lack of playing time this season. Regardless, Chelsea’s Player of the Year for both 2012 and 2013 will surely have to consider leaving Stamford Bridge this January in order to secure a place in Spain’s 2014 World Cup squad.
In a World Cup year, all players want to play, looks like Mata will need to look elsewhere to be guaranteed 90 minutes each week.— Döminic Vieira (@dominicvieira) January 1, 2014
And given the rate at which Spain churns out world-class players, Mata is unlikely to be selected for the 2018 World Cup, when he will be 30 years old. It’s a tough decision for Mata, who will have many of Europe’s top sides on alert this January.
Moyes has to make sure he’s at the front of the queue.
United’s Current Style of Play is Not Conducive to Success
United are crying out for creativity in attack. Under Moyes, the tendency to use wingers has become far too predictable. It has worked wonders at times, particularly against Aston Villa where Antonio Valencia and Rafael ran riot down United’s right-hand side.
But that only tells half the story.
According to Sky Sports’ Adam Bate, United have recorded the highest number of unsuccessful crosses this season with a staggering 423 failed attempts. That’s an average of 21 per game. It’s a problem for Moyes, because the current system of feeding wide players to cross the ball is easy to defend against. Going forward, United cannot rely on width when it’s clearly not an effective use of possession.
Mata and Januzaj would change that.
Both are capable of playing intricate passes, and it was the latter’s superb incisive pass to Danny Welbeck that led to United’s consolation goal against Tottenham Hotspur. Moyes needs to change the style of football that United play in order to add some fluency in attack.
A trio of Mata, Rooney and Januzaj behind van Persie is an enticing one, to say the least.
Stumbling Blocks to Any Potential Deal
Rarely does a player of Mata’s ability become available in January, but that just means any potential deal will be more difficult to push through. And there are a number of reasons why Mata may not arrive at Old Trafford by the end of the month.
The first factor relates to Chelsea’s willingness to sell a quality player to a domestic rival. It rarely happens, and one would imagine that Mourinho will stand in the way of any deal being struck.
Secondly, Mata’s best position is the same as Rooney’s. Given the latter’s form this season, it’s difficult to envisage a logical argument whereby Mata could usurp Rooney as United’s No. 10. Mata can also operate in a 4-2-3-1 formation, however.
But Moyes’ proclivity to opt for traditional wide men, with overlapping full-backs, means that it is unlikely the Scot would go for such an ambitious formation. And given the financial outlay that would be involved in bringing Mata to United, Moyes may decide that there’s no reason to make a move when he has Rooney.
Ultimately, even if Mata wanted to join United and Chelsea were willing to allow the move, Moyes’ mindset could be the biggest limiting factor. In addition, United’s need for a central midfielder should be the priority in January. Any move for Mata should occur after a midfielder is signed.
How Would Mata Impact United for the Remainder of the Season?
Mata’s creative spark with the ball at his feet could work wonders for United.
Should Moyes try to sign Mata?
The Spaniard oozes class, and he would revel in having the likes of Rooney, Januzaj, van Persie and Michael Carrick around him. That quintet has the look of a team that wins trophies.
Should Mata join United, then it would call for a change of formation.
A 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 hybrid would allow the Spaniard to flourish, and it’s one that Moyes has used on occasion this season. It would ensure that United’s conservative, tentative and predictable attacking play is replaced by a vibrant forward line capable of picking holes in an opposition’s defence.
If Moyes could also capture a central midfielder to sit alongside Carrick, then United’s season could yet prove to be a successful one.