What Juan Mata Transfer Means for Manchester United

Karl MatchettFeatured ColumnistJanuary 22, 2014

Chelsea's Juan Mata, celebrates after scoring his teams second goal during their English League Cup soccer match between Arsenal and Chelsea at the Emirates stadium in London Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Alastair Grant/Associated Press

In case you've been living under a rock or without access to any kind of screaming Premier League football fan for the past 24 hours or so, Manchester United are reported to be deep in discussions with Chelsea to sign Juan Mata.

David Bond of BBC Sport reports that a £35 million bid is in place, a club record for United, to bring the World Cup winner to Old Trafford after half a season spent on the fringes at Stamford Bridge.

As recently as this month, Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said he wanted Mata to remain at the club. “I want to keep him," Mourinho said, per ESPN FC. "I don’t want him to go. That is my opinion, my wish, but my door is open."

Quite aside from the financial implications of such a deal, there is a range of on-pitch issues to consider for the reigning Premier League champions if the transfer is indeed completed.

 

Not Your Typical United Wide Man

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 16: Gary Neville of Manchester United in action during the Barclays Premier League Match between Manchester United and Burnley at Old Trafford on January 16, 2010 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Im
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Gary Neville, as per Sky Sports, has spoken about how Mata is not a traditional winger of the variety that Manchester United tend to purchase, and he's right.

It generally points to a feeling that Mata will initially be asked to help United structure their play rather more centrally than they have done until now, allowing a right-sided defender to keep the width when possible—potentially a continuing role in the side for Antonio Valencia, then.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 21:  Antonio Valencia of Manchester United in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and West Ham United at Old Trafford on December 21, 2013 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Stu Forster/
Stu Forster/Getty Images

On the other hand, he could be asked to maintain width from the left, but it seems rather a waste to pick up one of the league's top players and ask him to perform in a different role than that which he excels in.

A line of Adnan Januzaj, Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata behind Robin van Persie, if all were fit and firing, would be a mouthwatering combination and one which would surely see the Red Devils improve on recent attacking displays.

 

Rooney's Replacement?

Elsewhere, Mark Ogden of The Telegraph reports that Wayne Rooney might well be off in the summer—thus, Mata might be the actual replacement for him ahead of his departure.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 21:  Wayne Rooney of Manchester United in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and West Ham United at Old Trafford on December 21, 2013 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Gett
Stu Forster/Getty Images

Mata being in a central role would appeal to most fans and managers (Mourinho aside, obviously), but it would still leave Manchester United needing to add further quality in the wide areas.

Not only that, but Rooney has been a proven goal threat for United for several seasons, while Mata has only really had one top goalscoring campaign so far.

Elsewhere, United must consider what kind of message it sends to prospective signings when Wayne Rooney has had enough to the extent that he departs when the team needs rebuilding, or at least significant additions.

 

Not the End of United's Problems

Even if Rooney stays for now, even if Mata joins in January, that's not the end of Manchester United's issues.

The central midfield area still needs a proper partnership to develop. There are concerns in more than one area of defence and the depth of the squad in the final third still arguably needs revamping, rather than merely adding to.

FILE PHOTO - EDITORS NOTE: COMPOSITE OF TWO IMAGES - Image Numbers 185933325 (L) and 176736916) In this composite image a comparison has been made between David Moyes, Manager of Manchester United (L) and Jose Mourinho, Manager of Chelsea. Chelsea and Man
Getty Images/Getty Images

Mata will not solve the defensive conundrum—though maybe David Moyes can convince him to put in the hard work that Mourinho believed he wasn't capable of—even though he should help link the attack and create more shooting chances for his teammates. United average five fewer shots per match than rivals Man City and average less than five shots on target per game.

The Chelsea man will be expected to immediately increase United's productivity in front of the goal. He's certainly a player capable of doing that, but he's not the fix to every one of the team's problems.

For this season, though, merely being the attacking link to win enough games to sneak into fourth place could be a masterstroke.