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Juan Mata: The Way Forward for Manchester United?

There were question marks over Juan Mata’s future at Manchester United in the first half of the season but a switch to 4-3-3 saw the Spaniard make the wide right berth his own. After a strong finish to the season which helped United seal 4th place, Aalim Khaderi insists that the Spaniard should be an integral part of Louis van Gaal’s plans next season.

Juan Mata Man United 2015

Juan Mata has experienced somewhat of a renaissance last season. The Spanish midfielder was confined to the bench for large parts of the early goings in the Premier League season and was left out for an extended run of games which was no doubt frustrating for the diminutive midfielder. Many had written Mata off as a summer departure but things have changed drastically since then. Mata erupted into electric form going from a player confined to the bench, to a player playing the full 90 minutes.

However, what manager Louis Van Gaal intends to do with Mata next season remains unclear as the Dutchman has already begun to purchase dynamic wide players such as Memphis Depay. Even with the introduction of new players, Mata should still stand above the rest. He deserves a leading role because of the many qualities he brings to Manchester United.

Compatible With Van Gaal’s System

Louis Van Gaal has employed a 4-3-3 formation and favors a possession based side which recycles the ball from side to side. The Dutchman expects players to interchange positions with enhanced fluidity in order to tire the opposition out. He instructs players to combine constantly with little one-twos in order to create space for themselves and others. Juan Mata perfectly fits the bill for this type of system. The Spaniard’s immaculate close control coupled with his ability to perfectly weight passes compliments Van Gaal’s style of play. No matter where Mata is played, whether that be out wide or in the center, he is always looking to provide players with options. He finds little spaces for teammates to find him in. After receiving the ball, Mata combines with others in order to keep the ball moving.

The more dynamic wingers, which Van Gaal seems to favor, are by no means ineffective. In fact, they often provide good service and keep the opposing defenders on their toes. However, Mata potentially offers more than these type of players. He acts as a “middleman” for the team as he links the midfield with the attack. Without a player like Mata, the central midfielders would be forced to play long, direct balls into the wide players. Traditional wide players in a 4-3-3 stay high and wide so that they can beat a man and send in a cross. Mata offers something different. He is nowhere similar to the orthodox winger as he constantly drifts inside. When he checks for the ball, he offers an extra man in central midfield. This allows United to dominate the midfield without having to boot the ball forwards. Mata is also able to feed passes into the wingers as he occupies spaces in between midfield and attack. Ultimately, Mata offers something that is unique and unpredictable to Manchester United’s system. He performs many functions which traditional wingers cannot.


As discussed above, Mata rose from being a bit part player to a player vital to the success of the team. However, even when he was sidelined, the Spanish magician conducted himself admirably. Unlike so many other players, Mata opted not to grumble or publicly lament his manager’s decision to drop him. Instead, he kept his head down and worked hard in training. Even when called upon for the brief cameos he was afforded, Mata performed. He came off the bench to score the winner against Palace in a game heading towards a 0-0 stalemate.

When Van Gaal eventually gave Mata a run of starts, he took his chance expertly. A series of goals against big rivals catapulted Mata into the startling lineup. Mata worked his way to a permanent starting role. The midfielder performed in the moments United needed him the most. He did little wrong in the second half season and for Van Gaal to not trust the Spaniard with the same role next season would be a criminal act.

Cutting Edge

Before his arrival at United, Juan Mata was a great player for Chelsea. He was always involved in goals, as he created most of them, and started virtually every match until Mourinho’s arrival. However as hard as it was, Mata has elevated his game to the next level at United. He has developed the uncanny ability to create goals for himself. At Chelsea, Mata would still score goals but required service in order to find the back of the net. Last season, Mata took it upon himself to score in the vital moments for United. A prime example of this came in the second outing against Liverpool. Di Maria lofted a ball towards Mata, however it was behind him. Now, the old Mata from Chelsea would have controlled the ball and squared it for a teammate. But Juan 2.0 adjusted his body expertly to drill the ball into the opposite corner of the scousers’ goal courtesy of an acrobatic volley. The former Chelsea man also demonstrated his ability to make incisive runs. Again, the Liverpool match provided a pristine example.

For Mata’s first goal, the Spaniard made a penetrating run between the outside and center backs. Take nothing away from Herrera’s pass to Mata, but it was Mata’s run which saw him go undetected that made Herrera’s choice of where to pass simple in the end. Mata uses his keen footballing brain to make up for his lack of pace when making runs. There were many times that Mata sneaked in behind to finish or assist. Mata’s newfound skills took some of the goalscoring burden off of Wayne Rooney’s shoulders especially towards the end of the season. Having a player that is able to make not only a subtle but direct impact on a game would no doubt boost Man United next season.

In conclusion, handing Juan Mata a leading role next season would be equivalent to nailing a multi-million dollar signing. Mata performs a role that no other player can play while also maintaining a hard working humble attitude. However, it is not just his humble attitude which makes him so valuable to this United side. His new found cutting edge has made him a matchwinner in his own right. A player like Mata would be indispensable to most teams in the world, especially Manchester United.

Written by Aalim Khaderi

Aalim Khaderi

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