Solskjaer must be the manager to end Mata's confusing spell as a right midfielder

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made five changes to his Manchester United side to host struggling Burnley on Tuesday night.
The consequence was a lack of fluidity in the first half, which saw United slip behind 2-0 and require a dramatic late comeback to salvage a draw and maintain his unbeaten start in charge.
Juan Mata was among the players to come into the side, taking up his now customary role as a tucked-in option on the right of midfield.

(Photo by Matthew Peters/Man Utd via Getty Images)


That is where United fans have come to expect to see him play; David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and now Solskjaer have all fielded him out on the right.
But it doesn’t make any sense; if you were to put together an ideal modern right-winger, Mata’s characteristics are the opposite of the optimum.
Mata isn’t particularly quick, or strong, he has to cut inside onto his left foot, crunching up United’s attacking play when so much of what has been good under Solskjaer has come from pace and width.
He is quite clearly a natural number ten – his best performance of the season came at Stamford Bridge on a rare occasion he was actually played there – and Solskjaer must be the United boss who finally ends his puzzling spell out on the right.

(OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images)


With Paul Pogba being routinely granted the creative freedom in the centre of the park, that may lead to limited starts for the Spaniard; but he is far better suited to sporadic appearances in central areas than being shoehorned in on the right from the off.
Mata is a wonderful talent and a role model to any professional, but when he plays from the right, United are simply not as effective as an attacking force and it is baffling that so many United managers played him there.

But Solskjaer has succeeded at United largely with a common-sense approach, and returning Mata to a central area – he even has the technical quality to play a bit deeper like David Silva does for Manchester United – makes sense.
If he doesn’t do that – with Mata’s contract set to expire at the end of the season – United may as well let him go, allowing him to play at the fulcrum of another side, as opposed to cramming him in at Old Trafford.

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Sam Preston is an NCTJ gold standard news and sports journalist who studied with the Press Association. He also has a 2:1 law with French law degree from the University of Birmingham, which included a year studying at Bordeaux Montaigne University. He is an FA Level 1 football coach who appeared on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire show in 2018 and has also written digital football content and match-day programme pieces for Colchester United, Mansfield Town and Stockport County.