Juan Mata Is Rapidly Becoming Manchester United's Odd 1 Out

Aaron Bower@@aaronbowerFeatured ColumnistOctober 21, 2014

Manchester United's Juan Mata gestures during the English Premier League soccer match between West Bromwich Albion and Manchester United at the Hawthorns, Birmingham, England, Monday, Oct. 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)
Rui Vieira/Associated Press

Amongst the many talking points from Manchester United's 2-2 draw with West Bromwich Albion on Monday night (and there were a few), there is one issue Louis van Gaal has to address perhaps quicker than any other.

The balance of his side seems to be slowly coming together, with Daley Blind and Angel Di Maria quickly adjusting to life in the Premier League. Radamel Falcao is slowly building up match fitness (and form), and although his defence is far from perfect, bodies are at least starting to stream back to full fitness.

Even Marouane Fellaini provided LVG with a useful "Plan B" for the coming weeks, which they may well need in upcoming games against Chelsea and Manchester City.

But whilst several of United's stars continue to flourish, Juan Mata again seems to be getting passed by when they take to the field. That is not to suggest Mata is not up to the standards required to play in this Manchester United team; far from it, in fact. He is a classy footballer who, when in full flow, is a joy to watch.

With the amount of attacking talent Van Gaal purchased during his first three months in charge though, Mata is almost being drowned in a sea of playmaking talent, and he looks to have lost his role at United. When he arrived in January as a David Moyes signing, he was instantly thrown into a role he thrives—the attacking fulcrum of a side.

He wasn't one of several tasked with leading United's attack from midfield, he was THE main man. Look at his record at United last year (via WhoScored.com). His 14 starts and six goals (as well as four assists) was a very decent return, and he played an impressive role for United in the second half of last season.

This season is different though; with Mata struggling to find his place in this team, his performances have ultimately suffered. A rating of just 6.1 last night against West Brom tells only half the story. In truth, Mata was incredibly ineffective all night both with and without the ball.

And glancing even further down his career record, you begin to see a similar path unfold during his time at Chelsea. Mata started life at Stamford Bridge like a house on fire but, as their style began to change, and Jose Mourinho returned to the club, Mata found himself becoming increasingly less effective.

It is a story not too dissimilar to Shinji Kagawa and his relationship with David Moyes. Kagawa was playing in a style and formation that simply did not suit him at Old Trafford, and he has since left the club to return to his spiritual home of Borussia Dortmund.

So what happens now? Well, if Van Gaal is keen on Mata and wants to work with him during his tenure as United manager, he must alter things to ensure Mata is in a role that suits him on the ground. He must play in an out-and-out No. 10 role, without being given orders to drift wide on occasion.

If United can find a way to fit him into their side properly, they will once again have one of the deadliest attacking midfielders in their possession. But if they don't, the two may as well part ways in January. Because simply put, Mata's current role isn't helping himself, United, or Louis van Gaal.

And that is a problem that needs addressing.

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