Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s decision to recall Juan Mata against Aston Villa was a gamble that didn’t pay off.
Mata was making his first start in the Premier League since October 6th when Manchester United lost 1-0 away to Newcastle United.
In a game where Jack Grealish grabbed the headlines with an all action display, Mata’s threat was non-existent and his ability to strike fear into opponents has diminished.
The Spaniard is yet to register a goal or an assist in 13 appearances across all competitions this season.
There was an argument during his time playing under Jose Mourinho at Old Trafford that Mata wasn’t getting enough opportunities in his favoured number 10 role.
The same cannot be said under the stewardship of Solskjaer, but Mata looks a faded force and should be restricted to cameo cup appearances at the very most.
Mata still possesses a deadly threat from set pieces on the edge of the box, but apart from that he isn’t quick, he isn’t strong and he isn’t creating chances. It’s hard to make a case for him to be given more game time.
Solskjaer needs to be bolder
It would have been a long and draining round trip for the likes of Jesse Lingard, Angel Gomes and Mason Greenwood for the Astana clash.
Lingard may have been tired, but surely the adrenaline of scoring his first goal since January and being named United captain for the first time would have had him chomping at the bit for a Premier League start.
Solskjaer could have also deployed Greenwood in the attacking role and allowed United’s front four to interchange and cause carnage like they did in the 8 minute devastating spell against Sheffield United.
There was also the option to move Andreas Pereira back into his favoured attacking position and give James Garner or Dylan Levitt their first Premier League start after impressing in Kazakhstan.
Solskjaer instead played it safe and opted for the fresh and experienced Mata who flattered to deceive. Perhaps it was one last chance.
There is no denying the love Juan Mata has for Manchester United, he is incredibly intelligent, well-spoken and potentially a future ambassador for the club.
But he doesn’t offer anything to this current United side and Solskjaer should be giving his talented youngsters the nod ahead of the former Chelsea man.
Could United lose Gomes?
At the age of 31, Mata doesn’t resemble the future of the football club and his new two-year deal in June could prove to be a major mishap from the board.
With Mata’s future assured for another season, question marks continue to surround the future of academy star Angel Gomes, whose current deal expires in June and there has been no breakthrough in negotiations.
The England U20 international will be free to negotiate a summer move with foreign clubs from January 1st if a contract extension isn’t signed beforehand.
Gomes has only played 9 minutes of Premier League football this season and that came in the 2-0 defeat to West Ham United on 22nd September.
The 19-year-old may get other chances to impress against AZ Alkmaar and Colchester United, but Solskjaer should be deploying him in the number 10 position, playing on the half-turn, doing what he does best and creating chances.
Even when the Norwegian has given Gomes a start, he has put him out on the left-wing to accommodate other number 10 options.
There is a clear reluctance from Solskjaer to give Gomes a chance in the Premier League, it could be related to the contract saga, but continually picking Mata ahead of Gomes isn’t going to endear himself to the Old Trafford faithful.
Solskjaer has got to be more adventurous with his team selections and he should start with making a statement of intent with United’s number eight.
Juan Mata isn’t good enough anymore to win Manchester United Premier League games, it is time for the club’s youngsters to be given the nod in the high profile games.
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