Juan Mata Will Be Manchester United's Most Important Player This Season

Sam Pilger@sampilgerContributing Football WriterJuly 31, 2014

Spain's Juan Mata looks on, during a press conference at the Atletico Paranaense training center in Curitiba, Brazil, Monday, June 16, 2014. Spain will play Chile in group B World Cup soccer match on Wednesday.  (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

In the final days of this year’s January transfer window, Juan Mata staged a dramatic entrance at Manchester United’s training ground. 

The Spaniard stepped out of a helicopter raffishly dressed in a blazer looking more like James Bond than a mere footballer.

Here was the man to save United’s season.

Signed from Chelsea for a club-record £37 million, United manager David Moyes hoped he could also save his job. 

The only problem was Moyes had no real idea what sort of player he had purchased and how to lure the best from him.

Moyes had signed a classic No. 10, a central playmaker, but immediately asked him to fill an unnatural position out on the wing.

DENVER, CO - JULY 26: Wayne Rooney #10 of Manchester United celebrates his second goal with Juan Mata #8 during the first half of an International Champions Cup match against AS Roma at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on July 26, 2014 in Denver, Color
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

At the time, Mata’s purchase was dismissed as unnecessary and an obvious panic buy, and this seemed to be borne out as he failed to make an immediate impact.

When Moyes was dismissed Mata suffered the indignity of being dropped for the first game of Ryan Giggs’ brief spell as caretaker manager.

However, throughout his early months at Old Trafford, Mata still showed more than enough glimpses of his special talent and contributed a healthy six goals in 15 appearances.

Here was a world-class talent; a member of Spain’s greatest ever generation of footballers, and a World Cup, European Championship and Champions League winner.

At 26, he was approaching his peak and needed a manager to nurture his talent.

It would appear he now has that manager in Louis van Gaal.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 03:  Juan Mata of Manchester United runs with the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Sunderland at Old Trafford on May 3, 2014 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Imag
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

After only a few weeks it is clear the Dutchman has recognised Mata will play a pivotal role for United this season.

Already in three pre-season friendlies in the USA Van Gaal has used Mata in his most effective central position behind two strikers.

Mata has become the "one" in Van Gaal’s preferred 3-4-1-2 formation.

This tactical tweak has revived the player, who starred in United’s 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy last week, and in his 45 minutes on the pitch in the 3-2 win against Roma on Saturday, he conjured up an assist for Wayne Rooney and a brilliantly taken chipped goal for himself.

The best and most profitable season of Mata’s career came in 2012-13 when he played in this central position under Rafa Benitez and responded with 20 goals.

Van Gaal is simply restoring Mata to this position and waiting for him to excel again. 

Moyes endured a miserable 11 months at United, but his final signing for the club is now likely to play a leading role in repairing the damage he inflicted on Old Trafford. 


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