Juan Mata’s contract extension had some Manchester United fans scratching their heads. After all, the Spaniard barely featured last season.
With nine league appearances (and 18 in all competitions) the 33-year-old was expected to move on. Surely he would want to play regularly as his career wound down.
Yet Mata put pen to paper on a one-year deal. And that may not be as strange as first thought.
Much has been said about the Spaniard’s experience. He will help United’s next generation develop on the training field. But there is one big reason why he may also have a few more sparkling days on the field, too.
United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has switched to 4-3-3 and that could open opportunities across all competitions.
Mata will not be a regular starter in the league. Yet he could get more opportunities from the bench and in cup competitions.
Last season, despite limited chances, Mata scored three goals and provided three assists. Expect that to increase considerably if United stick with 4-3-3 across the board.
Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba and Donny van de Beek may benefit most. But the well-liked Spaniard could be next in line.
He could develop a fine partnership of his own alongside the Dutchman in the cups. While also taking advantage of tired defences in the top flight.
An exciting swansong
It would be a fitting end to Mata’s time at United if he plays more this season.
He has been a fine servant, scoring 51 goals and setting up 47 more in 271 appearances. And he still has plenty to offer.
Before, it seemed he simply wouldn’t play enough games to justify his stay. Now, he could be one of four quality attacking midfielders on rotation.
United will want to attack every competition and they certainly have the squad to do that now.
Mata would not have signed a new deal simply to sit on the bench. He may already have some guarantees about playing time. And United fans can surely expect him to come on more regularly now two attacking midfielders will be used in every game.