Juan Mata would need just 10 more appearances to move into Manchester United’s top 70 of all time.
It’s questionable at this stage whether he gets there.
Mata has become a forgotten man lately. He has one appearance in 2021, which came in the FA Cup third round win over Watford.
This is certainly beginning to feel like Mata’s final season. His contract expires in June and while United have an option to renew it, you have to ask ‘why?’.
United have young talent coming through like Shola Shoretire and Hannibal Mejbri, and if Mata is not judged good enough to play now, then why should he block their path next season?
Whether he actually is good enough to play now, is another matter. If this is Mata’s final season, it feels like United could be wasting it.
Under utilised talent
Mata to his credit has three assists this season. That’s one more than Paul Pogba.
He featured prominently in one of United’s best performances this season away at Newcastle, a 4-1 win.
While this is counteracted by the fact he also started in one of the worst results, a loss to Istanbul Basaksehir, Mata is still clearly capable on his day of influencing games.
Over the last few weeks, United have struggled in key spots to break teams down. Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial lack the subtlety Mata provides.
Surely it would have been useful to have had him available for games against Sheffield United and West Brom, teams who sit deep and caused United problems. Mata was not on the bench for either.
Worth a place on the bench
While Mata was on the bench through late December and early January, he wasn’t called upon by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
And we understand the argument, why waste a bench spot on a player who isn’t going to be brought on?
At the same time, Mata probably should be being used. He is still capable of making a difference.
The Spaniard is no longer a starter, but he does have the ability to change games from the bench. He showed this in the Europa League quarter-final against Copenhagen back in August.
United have been so reliant on playing Marcus Rashford for every available minute that other options have been discarded. There should be a better balance.
It’s possible the Europa League acts as a trigger for this change. Mata needs to take advantage of a chance if he gets it.
With Paul Pogba out injured, United could do with his composure, especially late in games. Even if it’s just a case of him stepping up over the next few weeks, Mata should be given the chance to contribute.
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