With the transfer rumors around Juan Mata going to Manchester United the big question becomes where exactly he would fit into the squad.
Manchester United has been struggling throughout the 2013-14 season where the current title holders have dropped down to 7th place with an 11-4-7 record and 37 points. Injuries to key players hasn’t helped, but the lack of quality midfield players along with aging and underperforming players has really hampered their ability to challenge for the top.
The news of a possible record transfer for Juan Mata from Chelsea has been greeted with some excitement as well as some bewilderment. There are other parts of the team that need help, but in the past several years a creative midfielder is something that supporters have been calling out for.
With David Moyes being so hesitant to pay Shinji Kagawa as a creative attacking midfielder there is the question of where Juan Mata would even fit into this team.
So far this season Mata has made 11 Premier League starts and two substitute appearances. In this time he has played on the right of a midfield three in Mourinho’s typical 4-2-3-1 while playing in the middle for four of these starts. In this time he has given Chelsea two assists and has an 88.1% pass success rate.
Last season Juan Mata was voted as Chelsea’s player of the year and was quite impressive. While he wasn’t the best player in the league he was a solid creative force and contributed the most assists in the league with 12. He averaged 52.5 passes per game for an 85.2% completion rate. This includes the fourth best average of 2.7 key passes per game.
Last season he also completed 1.3 crosses per game with 46 of these being accurate out of 222. This was good enough for him to be 19th best in the league, it should also be noted that it was the same rate of Antonio Valencia who completed 39/163 as a winger for United.
This does bring up the fact that United’s main wingers, Valencia, Ashley Young, and Nani, have not been putting in the requisite performances that a team like Man United need.
Of the three of them Valencia has been the best with a WhoScored?.com rating of 7.03 with Nani at 6.73 and Young at 6.45. This season Valencia has put in 90 crosses with 16 of those accurate for an average of 0.8 per game while Young has averaged 0.9 per game with 10/46 being accurate. Wayne Rooney, United’s current number 10 and driving attacking force, has put in the most crosses with an average of 1.4 per game and 24/119 accurate, this despite having not played since New Year’s Day.
The main reason to address this is to point out that Manchester United no longer has the quality wingers of the past providing service for the forwards. What this means is that they are already in a situation where they can move away from using wingers and into a setup that could see Juan Mata playing in a midfield three along with Wayne Rooney and Adnan Januzaj.
Mata has played on the right side for Chelsea this season which would give Moyes the option to use Mata here with Rooney (or even Kagawa) in the middle while Januzaj (or Kagaway or Young or Nani) could be used out on the left.
The problem will be that Juan Mata is more of a creative player and does not track back, meaning that the right back (Rafael, Chris Smalling, or Phil Jones) could be left without cover, particularly with how often United’s full back are used in overlapping runs in attack.
There could be the possibility of other formations to fit Mata in, but many of these might leave United’s midfield and defense even more stretched. A 4-1-4-1 with Rooney and Mata playing together along with Januzaj and Valencia on the wings might be an option, but one in which Rooney would need to be able to operate alongside Mata and would require a holding midfielder behind them.
At this point and time Marouane Fellaini is still injured and hasn’t played very well in the role in the past. Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverly aren’t that well suited for it either considering their defensive frailties. The most likely candidate for the role would be Darren Fletcher, but he is still not fully match fit.
While it would be great to see Juan Mata getting playing time again, it’s going to take some interesting tactical moves from David Moyes to fit him in. Even more interesting for a manager who prefers a more rigid, pragmatic 4-5-1 and will still be missing several key pieces of this project.
More pressing for Manchester United is the rapid decline of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand along with the problems they’ve had defensively in general. They are still lacking a leader in the team and especially an engine in the middle of the park that can take control of a match and drive them forward.
Juan Mata is none of these players, but what he could bring is a renewed sense of purpose to a club who has not had a major signing in more than 18 months.
The other major transfer rumor is Manchester United’s possible more for Dante from Bayern Munich. This would be a much better move in terms of solidifying their back line, and he could be a leader for this team that they seem to be lacking.
All statistics come courtesy of WhoScored?
Leave your comments below. Would Juan Mata be able to fit in to Manchester United? Would he help carry them to a top four finish?