At 32-years-old Juan Mata’s better days are behind him. But he still has moments of magic in his boots.
His performance on Wednesday night at home to LASK encapsulated just where his career is at right now.
The first 45 minutes he looked lost out on the right wing, as he has done often throughout his United career. He improved in the second half when he moved into the centre.
Mata provided two assists for United two goals as the team fought back from a goal down on the night.
The veteran’s first assist came as he launched a swift counter attack with one touch, playing Jesse Lingard through on goal one-on-one. United’s number 14 does not score many goals, but he made no mistake when presented with the opportunity.
Then in the 88th minute with the game petering out towards a draw, Mata picked out Anthony Martial and played him through. The Frenchman was clinical, netting a winner minutes after coming off the bench.
Mata’s stats better than his performance
Aside from his game changing contributions, and we know that sounds odd, Mata did not have a great game.
His shooting was wasteful, two shots attempted were both off target, and he was dispossessed by his opponents twice.
But when it came to creating chances, Mata did exactly what he is paid to do. He made four key passes, more than the rest of the team did combined (3).
Mata also completed 5 dribbles, the highest of any United player, and he also managed to draw three fouls.
He drifted in and out of the game, and at times attacks slowed down when they came to him, but it is hard to knock his contribution when nobody else is coming close to his creative output.
Pick him with Fernandes?
Mata was a little unfairly overlooked in the Premier League by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer late in the season. The 1-1 draw against West Ham in particular felt like it was crying out for him to come off the bench and find a killer pass.
He looked bright before the lockdown playing alongside Bruno Fernandes. Even out on the right, to accommodate the Portuguese star centrally, Mata played well and they seemed like they were on the same wavelength.
Most probably we will see Mason Greenwood return for the Europa League quarter-final on Monday night.
This performance though may have made Solskjaer a little less afraid to mix it up, and we could see Mata play a role in the next round as a substitute.
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