Juan Mata’s poor luck with injury means he has been ruled out of another midweek clash.
Mata won’t be travelling with the squad to face Crystal Palace tonight, and the sad aspect of it is, his absence won’t be felt because United are used to being without him.
This season has seen Mata’s role wane from ‘squad player’, to ‘invisible man’ over the past few months.
Mata actually played a prominent role in United’s opening three months, helping the team get back on track with away wins at Newcastle and Everton.
His last big contribution was an assist away at West Ham at the start of December which showed he still has quality – but his last Premier League start was in November.
Mata’s last start was two months ago in the FA Cup win over Watford. He has played just nine minutes since across two appearances.
An injury kept him out of the Real Sociedad home leg at Old Trafford, and meant Bruno Fernandes had to play 45 minutes due to a lack of other options, when United would rather have rested him.
Mata’s contract expires in June. United have an option to extend it by a further year, and it has not yet been taken up.
It is getting harder to see United extending his deal, and especially tough to justify it.
United need Mata to be available and to contribute. His recent injury which has prevented him from featuring lately, is one extra reason not to extend his deal.
Mata has started only four Premier League games this season and often he has not made the matchday 18.
He turns 33 in March and United should allow him to leave on a free transfer and return to Spain.
Mata has 267 total appearances for United, the 74th highest of all time. He needs just eight more to equal Andy Cole’s tally of 275 games. He might struggle to make it at his current rate.
With United’s generous approach to contracts, it would surprise nobody if Mata was handed an extra year extension, but it’s hard to justify it from a footballing perspective.
United’s team is blessed with a number of promising academy talents looking for game time, particularly Shola Shoretire and Hannibal Mejbri, who have both been approved to step up to the first team.
Keeping Mata could restrict game time for both players, and at this point, United need to move towards youth.
Mata is a quality player who can still offer a lot when he is fit, but Solskjaer has shown that even when the Spaniard is available, he is a long way from being a first team regular.
So it is time for a younger player to have a go, and United are fortunate enough to have several of them who could profit from Mata’s departure. This is likely to factor into the inevitable decision over his future later this season.
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