Perhaps the most high profile signing of the January transfer window was when Juan Mata agreed to move to Manchester United. Considering that he was hardly getting any playing time under Jose Mourinho, he would have probably gone to any club where he can be sure of first team football, especially this being a World Cup year. That, in itself, is not an issue. The fact that no other club looked interested enough to take Mata off Chelsea’s hands is what is more surprising. Surely, not all the clubs in the big leagues of Europe are so full in attacking talent that they cannot accommodate Chelsea’s double player of the year?
Then again, David Moyes got the marquee signing that his campaign so desperately needed. You could see the relief as well as the confidence in the manager when he announced Mata’s signing and went on to state there would be more such signings in the summer. Whether he will still be at United come summer is an entirely different discussion altogether. But what impact will Juan Mata have on Manchester United. Is he the signing that Manchester United really needed? Is Mata going to make any significant impact to United’s season? These are significant questions that need answering.
Firstly, there is no doubt that Juan Mata is a fantastic player, and any attack minded football side would be more than glad to have him in his team. And Manchester United are just that: a team that is more about taking the attack to the opposition rather than relying on the sitting back and hit them on the counter strategy. And the stars they have are not exactly mugs when they have the ball either. They can dribble past opponents and make those killer passes more times than they miss. At first glance, it would seem that Mata would fit right in, and help a team struggling this season to rediscover their lost attacking form.
But when you look closely, it is not so much the lack of players that has been affecting Manchester United. In fact, one can say that they are already overloaded in the attacking front. Consider this: Shinji Kagawa was brought from Borussia Dortmund for the simple reason that he is a player that has the vision and the skill to create chances in the final third. However, the club, in the form of 2 managers, have simply refused to play him in his preferred No. 10 role, shunting him out wide. It would have still been alright, if he had the support of the rest of the team to interchange positions during the game. That way, when he moves to the centre, one of the central midfielders would move out wide, or the full back would make an overlapping run. Unfortunately, since he joined the team, that has happened very rarely, and Kagawa, as a result, has not had the desired impact on the club or its fans.
It is the same situation that Juan Mata faces right now. With Rooney preferred at the No. 10 role, Carrick and Cleverley occupying the central midfield roles, Mata, like Kagawa, can only play out wide in this team. As a result, he has not had the impact that most fans would have been hoping for. This time round, though, he is being ably supported by Rafael, allowing him to get into a central position near the box while the full back covers the flank. But by the time he waits for Rafael to arrive, the opposite has already filled the box with defenders, making it difficult for him to find an opening.
Tactics also play an important role as to how effectively a player can be used, and Moyes’ oft repeated tactic of shunting the play out wide and pinging crosses into the box is not only not working for the team, it is not the best use of the attackers that he has. Apart from Rooney, neither of Van Persie, Mata, Chicharito, or Welbeck are exactly known for their heading ability. The Fulham game was a case in point where there were a record number of crosses put in but both United goals came from shots off the foot. Also, by playing this way, Moyes is not allowing Mata to flourish either.
Moyes, if he has to make the situation better for himself and the team, has to take a brave decision of dropping either Robin van Persie or Wayne Rooney and play Mata in the No. 10 role. Doing so would free the team from relying on crosses and will also allow Mata to dictate play and find players runs a lot easier than from out wide.