From Chelsea rejection to a Manchester embrace. . .
Juan Mata has been a controversial figure ever since he signed for United, even before that, actually. The two-time Player of the Year and fan favorite at Chelsea was unceremoniously dumped by Jose Mourinho in the middle of the 2013/14 season. Questions still remain about why exactly he was sold, but United quickly snapped him up for a then record fee of £37.1 million. In a dismal season for United, Mata was one of the few bright sparks, scoring six Premier League goals after his January transfer. Moyes was sacked before the season ended, and Louis Van Gaal was given the job.
Under Van Gaal, Mata was never really given a consistent place in the team, but still managed to be successful. In LVG’s two seasons, Mata made 71 appearances, scored 15 goals, created 103 chances, and had an average pass completion of 89.5%. The numbers are impressive, to say the least. The combination of Mata and Herrera was at the heart of some of United’s best performances, especially the wins against Spurs and Liverpool in the 2014/15 season. Mata’s overhead goal at Anfield will forever be celebrated by the United faithful.
The in the summer of 2016, United hired Jose Mourinho to replace the disappointing Louis Van Gaal. Given their history, many (if not most) United fans and Premier League followers in general thought Mata would be one of the first players out the door. Mourinho attempted to squash these rumors, stating that every player would get a fair chance. He even went so far as to say that he never wanted to sell Mata, but let him go after Mata requested a transfer. Still, the rumors swirled, with clubs like Juventus and Everton heavily linked. The transfer window came and went, and Mata remained a United player. And in a fantastic moment of irony, Mata scored the first goal of Mourinho’s competitive United career.
Since then, Mourinho has given Mata a key role in the team. Since the start of the season, Mata has played in the number 10 role 4 times and on the right 4 times. Even when he’s on the flank, he is allowed to drift centrally and create, and has scored twice and assisted once in his eight starts.
Mata has been key to any success United have had this season. When he has started, United have claimed 13 out of 15 possible points. When he hasn’t? 1 out of a possible 12! (This statistic does not include United’s win against City in the EFL Cup, which would bring the numbers up to 16 out of 18 possible points).
Mata has been crucial to United’s best performances this year, showing his class in their fixtures against Southampton, Leicester, and Fenerbahçe. Mata was controversially left out of the XI in United’s derby match against Liverpool, and the team looked flat and un-inspired in a drab 0-0 draw. In United’s 4-0 defeat against Chelsea, Mata came on at halftime and was one of the few bright moments of the match. And yesterday, in the Red Devils’ clash with Manchester City in the EFL Cup, the silky Spaniard scored the winning goal in a performance that showed what a difference the diminutive playmaker can cause in the team.
Once considered to be on his way out the door, Mata has fought his way to being one of the first names on the team sheet, and has carved out a key role for himself in the United squad. In a Jose Mourinho team that has too often been devoid of creativity, Mata has been full of invention and innovation. Going forward you can expect him to be at the heart of United’s attack, and don’t be surprised to see him continue to have a major impact in big moments. He is truly proving his worth.