Once the dust finally settles on a medical exam and some signatures, Manchester United will have secured the services of Spanish midfielder Juan Mata—smashing the team’s transfer fee record in the process—according to Paul Hayward and Mark Ogden of The Telegraph.
The move brings much-needed aid to a Red Devils side on pace for its worst finish since 1990 and in danger of missing out on European competition, though it isn’t without its critics:
Since arriving at Chelsea for the 2011-12 campaign, Mata has been a revelation for the Blues. He famously won Chelsea Player of the Year in consecutive seasons, recording 12 goals and 20 assists in the first and 20 goals and 28 assists in the second across all competitions.
|Year||Games (subs)||Goals||Assists||Pass Succ%|
But the rosy marriage came to a sudden halt with the arrival of Jose Mourinho. The Special One has shown strong preference for Oscar in the attacking midfield position, citing his greater work rate on defense. Per ESPN.co.uk:
Oscar as a number 10 gives us creativity, but when we want to press, Oscar is a runner and we have our idea. We stick with our idea. I respect you a lot. The Chelsea manager is Jose Mourinho.
Juan has to learn to play the way I want to play. He has to be more consistent, has to be more participative when the team loses the ball, and I think it is not his fault. It is just a consequence of the way he played in the last few years.
Chelsea’s loss is United’s gain.
The Spanish international brings playmaking vision to a side that has lacked creativity of late. According to WhoScored.com, Mata finished first and fourth in the Premier League in key passes per game during his two seasons at Stamford Bridge and has been a more accurate crosser than any of David Moyes’ men.
Jimmy Coverdale of Bloomington Sports points out that only 13 other players across the five major European domestic leagues recorded double-digit goals and assists last year, company which includes Ballon d’Or finalists Leo Messi, Franck Ribery and Cristiano Ronaldo:
Mata was also one of just three players to reach double figures in goals and combine this with creating 2.50 chances or more per 90 minutes in the Premier League last season – with the other two being Luis Suarez and Santi Cazorla – and only 14 players scored more than five goals and averaged more than 2.00 shot assists per 90. Therefore, even if Manchester United are overpaying for the player, Mata’s dual goal and creative threat has been rare in the Premier League.
Mata’s arrival creates something of a logjam in the middle attacking role behind Robin van Persie.
Depending on the formation, Moyes will have decisions to make. In the preferred 4-2-3-1 either Mata or Wayne Rooney will sit. In the traditional 4-4-2 it will be two out of Mata, Tom Cleverley, Michael Carrick and Shinji Kagawa. Or Moyes can move Mata to a less effective wing position, where his reluctance to track back on defense becomes more of a liability.
But this is a good problem for United, who, as Coverdale again points out, are struggling for chances:
The club have scored fewer goals this season (1.63 goals per match this term compared to 2.26 goals per match last season) as they have shot with less frequency, attempting an average of 13.2 shots per match – compared to their 14.8 shots per match from last season…
Manchester United led the league in clear-cut chance creation last season with 2.29 per match; however this season this has dropped to 1.05 big chances created per match – ranking 12th in the Premier League with just 23 big chances created.
United currently sit six points off from European competition, both Europa and Champions Leagues.
If United are being honest with themselves, making up the points on Liverpool and Tottenham is a tall order with 16 games to play—even with Mata joining the side. He can start by helping improve on United's eighth-best 54.8 percent possession and just two through balls per game.
Securing points against Arsenal, Manchester City, Liverpool, and Everton will be absolutely critical, and United are no strangers to points comebacks. Remember the 2008-09 season when they sat eight points back of Liverpool in January and finished a point ahead of Liverpool? Improbable, but not impossible.
But the Red Devils aren’t simply making a short-term panic buy. Mata will be just 26 in April, and his contract keeps him at Old Trafford for another four full seasons.