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Juan Mata Needs Help If He's Going to Lead Manchester United's Revival

Manchester United's new signing Juan Mata displays his new shirt before a press conference at the team's Carrington training ground, Manchester, England, Monday, Jan. 27, 2014. With Manchester United in danger of missing out on the Champions League next season, Juan Mata's arrival at Old Trafford for a club record fee of 37.1 million pounds ($61.2 million) is certainly an emergency move. But it also marks the first step in the rebuilding process of England's most titled club. After a botched transfer campaign last summer that was followed by the club's lackluster first half of the season, United now looks determined to allow manager David Moyes the opportunity to build his own team.(AP Photo/Jon Super)
Jon Super/Associated Press
Rob DawsonManchester United CorrespondentJanuary 29, 2014

Tuesday night at Old Trafford was all about Juan Mata's welcome.

Few signings have arrived at Manchester United amid more excitement and expectation of what they might deliver.

The Spanish midfielder has been billed as the saviour of David Moyes' first season. It's a lot to live up to, even for a World Cup winner who has cost £37.1 million.

But he can't drag United back into contention for silverware by himself.

And the fans who waited anxiously to see if Mata would start on his opening night needed only to glance further down the team sheet to see why.

Jon Super/Associated Press

Against Cardiff City, Mata formed a forward line with Robin van Persie that cost more than £60 million to assemble. But in midfield, Moyes was forced to pair a centre-half with a 40-year-old.

With Michael Carrick and Marouane Fellaini injured and Tom Cleverley and Darren Fletcher on the bench, United's midfield consisted of Phil Jones and Ryan Giggs.

It was a line-up that said to the Glazers, "thanks for the money for Mata, but have you seen this midfield?"

The gaping hole in United's midfield means that Mata's arrival can only be judged in the context of other arrivals. If Mata is followed through the door by a top-class central midfielder, then it will look like good business.

But the longer he is expected to play in front of the likes of Jones and Giggs, it might start to look misguided.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 04:  Marouane Fellaini and Ryan Giggs (L) of Manchester United compete with Steven Pienaar of Everton during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Everton at Old Trafford on December 4, 2013 in Manc
Michael Regan/Getty Images

Moyes might not be able to get reinforcements in before Friday's deadline. It's likely that if he's shopping for players of similar quality to Mata, he'll have to wait until the summer.

But the first United team sheet with Mata's name on it was a quiet reminder that Moyes' rebuild is far from over. 

He inherited the champions and spent £64 million on new recruits, although the jury is still out on whether Fellaini will prove to be a success. Still, compared to the teams he hopes to compete with next season—Chelsea and Manchester City—his squad still looks short.

Mata's arrival on Tuesday was greeted at Old Trafford with the fanfare you'd expect for a record buy signed at a time of unprecedented upheaval.

But the next one will be the real signal of intent from Moyes and United. After such a long wait, a high-end central midfielder can expect an even warmer welcome.

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