Since arriving at Carrington in style in January 2014, Juan Mata has won the hearts of many Manchester United fans through is sleek skills on the ball and dastardly charm off the pitch.
Having the ability to play both through the middle and out wide made Mata a key figure in United’s attack during his debut months at Old Trafford. He played on the right-hand side of a front four, while Rooney, Van Persie, and either of Ashley Young and Danny Welbeck completed the United attack.
Fast-forward a few years and it’s clear to see that Mata’s age is beginning to get the better of him. His pace has dwindled, and with United choosing other options at number ten (when the formation permits such a role), good ol’ Juan doesn’t get a look in.
Mata has featured more as a backup option on the right wing, a position his current style of play does not favour.
Is Juan Mata Manchester United’s best option on the right-hand side? How does he compare to the side’s other options? Let’s take a look.
Juan Mata joined Manchester United from Premier League rivals Chelsea in January 2014.
The estimated £37m then-manager David Moyes forked out caused many to question the decision, given the Spaniard had fallen out of favour under Jose Mourinho. However, Mata’s assets were soon realised.
Mata played 15 games for United during the 2013/14 season, in which he scored six goals and assisted four. He also managed a pass success rate of 89% and was awarded ‘man of the match’ on two separate occasions.
Last season, however, Mata managed just three goals and five assists in 28 league games. With Manchester United looking limp in attack in the first opening games of the 2018/19 season, many have raised the question as to whether Juan Mata belongs in United’s strongest starting XI.
STATISTICS VS BRIGHTON (AUGUST 19th 2018)
Last Sunday’s defeat away to Brighton and Hove Albion was a day to forget for Manchester United. A game riddled with defensive errors and a lack of attacking prowess resulted in United’s first defeat of the season – as well as the subsequent media meltdown that followed.
Mata failed to lift his team out of the hole they slumped into as soon as the second goal went in.
He managed to complete 88% of the passes he attempted, yet failed to create any chances, complete any take-ons, or complete any dribbles. In fact, eight out of the 15 passes Mata completed in the game were backward.
Mata’s hesitancy in the final third has seen him frustrate fans and punters alike. United need urgency in attack, not players who stall the momentum.
I’d like to preface this by saying that the last season we saw Alexis Sanchez feature predominantly on the right wing was during his inaugural campaign at Arsenal. Thus, I have chosen stats from that season. This way, I feel the comparison is a lot fairer.
In terms of the number of goals scored per 90 metrics, Mata sits with the lowest tally of 0.15. I’d take these findings with a pinch of salt, however, given the Spaniard isn’t particularly known for his ability to find the back of the net – rather helping others to do so.
Interestingly, Alexis Sanchez comes out on top with 0.49 goals per 90 metrics, an impressive achievement considering the Chilean wasn’t played on the left where he could cut inside onto his favoured right foot.
In terms of the number of assists per 90 metrics, Mata ties with Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford with an average of 0.26. Alexis Sanchez, on the other hand, sits at the bottom of the pack – albeit only just.
The final two statistics see Juan Mata perform his best. With the number of average chances created, he sits just 0.02 points behind leader Alexis Sanchez with 2.40.
Finally, Mata again is edged out slightly by Sanchez in terms of the average number of key passes per 90 metrics. The Spaniard tallied 2.14 last season in Premier League while Sanchez managed a 2.17 average during his debut season at the Emirates.
While Juan Mata’s statistics in recent times for United portray him as a talented playmaker, it’s what statistics do not show which makes him a questionable choice for United’s starting right-winger.
Mata hasn’t got the pace the likes of Marcus Rashford has, nor the tight-knit dribbling Alexis Sanchez also possesses. His playmaking ability is certainly commendable, but he’s not the winger Manchester United need.
He lacks the sense of urgency we were so used to seeing during Sir Alex’s counter-attacking heyday.
Alex Sanchez, Jesse Lingard, and even Marcus Rashford pose far greater threats going forward, mainly due to their unpredictability on the ball. With Mata, opposing defenders know that he is unlikely to hug the touchline and try and take them on.
Instead, he has become infamous for his tendencies to sit deep in the inner channels, not fully supporting his compadres in attack. Mata’s style of play favours him playing directly through the middle. When played out wide, he makes the team not utilise the full width of the pitch.
Heck, I’ve long been an advocate for Mata to follow a similar path to David Silva in transitioning into more of a deep-lying playmaker. Though, it’s hard to see Jose being willing to experiment with the role in which he implements Mata, especially given that he is already under immense pressure to perform at Old Trafford.
Juan Mata has traits that are extremely valuable to Manchester United and Jose Mourinho. However, for me, on the right wing is not the place to get the best out of them.