Juan Mata came into Manchester United’s starting line up at the weekend for the first time in the Premier League this season.
Mata’s opportunity was overdue, after two impressive starts in the Carabao Cup. It was no surprise to see the under-appreciated Spaniard play well.
What we don’t know, is whether Mata would have started had Mason Greenwood been fit. It’s possible. Greenwood could have led the line, with Rashford on the left instead of James.
Mata seized his opportunity and helped inspire United to a 4-1 win. Former star Rio Ferdinand hailed his performance as ‘unreal’.
Mata has put forward a strong case for more starting opportunities at United.
In three starts this season he has created 11 goalscoring chances.
Three of these came in the weekend win against Newcastle. Mata provided one assist, while also being efficient in possession, completing 94 per cent of his passes.
We have seen Mata play a lot on the right hand side through the years, and the results have been mixed. But when he has Bruno Fernandes alongside him, he has performed really well.
Mata has started alongside Fernandes six times in total. United have won five of these matches and drawn one – which was back on February 1 against Wolves, Fernandes’ debut.
United have won these games by a combined score of 19-2.
These include two 5-0 wins and the 4-1 victory at the weekend.
What you have with Fernandes and Mata is two players on a similar wavelength, who are from similarly cultured footballing backgrounds, who possess vision and passing ability to cut defences apart.
Having them both in the same team makes it easier for each other, with teams unable to concentrate on just trying to stop one.
Add in the pace of players like Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial around them, and United’s frontmen can score a hatful.
Against Newcastle at the weekend the pairing created nine chances combined, Mata three and Fernandes six.
New signing Edinson Cavani will have been licking his lips looking forward to playing with that kind of service.
Change of approach
Mason Greenwood is a huge talent, but United have to ask questions right now whether Juan Mata is actually a more dangerous starter.
Greenwood is lethal when given chances, but at times out on the right he can be too isolated. Mata touched the ball 73 times against Newcastle.
Against Tottenham Greenwood made 31 touches in 67 minutes, and 44 in 82 minutes away at Brighton.
It is a different approach having Mata out on the right than Greenwood. Whether you prefer it or not, it is hard to argue with the results.
United have a testing run of games coming up and Mata deserves to play a key part. United will be better for keeping the 32-year-old involved.
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