Juan Mata was one of the Manchester United players whose fine form was interrupted by the halted season. Now the Spaniard will be looking to pick up where he left off.
Mata has not always found it easy at United playing on the right side of attack. When he has done so lately, with Bruno Fernandes alongside him, he has really kicked on.
Fernandes and Mata are two players on the same wavelength. They can see a path, and pick out the movement of their teammates. The few matches they played together were encouraging.
In Mata’s last 288 minutes of game time (three full games and one 18 minute substitute appearance), he created 12 chances.
That works out at a chance created every 24 minutes.
Finding his rhythm
Six of these chances created by Mata came in the home win over Club Brugge. He then made another key pass in his 18 minute substitute appearance against Everton, almost setting up United’s winner.
Away at Derby in the FA Cup he created three chances, and another two away at LASK, in which he also scored.
Mata was used by United as a rotational option this season, rarely featuring in more than one match per week.
With games being held every four days as the Premier League restarts, United will need to use the big squad we have, and maximise the five substitute rule. Mata will have a role to play.
He will find his role increases if he returns with the same form as which he left off.
After playing 1,734 minutes in total this season, at the age of 32, the break will have had some beneficial effects for Mata despite it coming when he was in good form.
Like the rest of the squad he will be refreshed physically and mentally, ahead of this final stretch.
Will he start the opener?
If Ole Gunnar Solskjaer selects a 4-2-3-1, then Mata is one of the contenders to start on the right. That is where he shone in the weeks prior to the break.
His winning goal in the FA Cup replay win over Wolves shows Mata is still capable of breaking down tight defences in close games.
Alternatives for the position include Mason Greenwood, or perhaps more likely, Dan James.
The Welshman’s pace may be preferred to stretch Tottenham’s defence an vulnerability at full-back.
Mata is a good option to have, and it is likely he has some involvement in the fixture, from the bench if not from the start.
The way he was playing before the break, he has the ability to make the difference.
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