Mata expected to remain at United beyond January despite exit rumours

Juan Mata has made just two starts for Manchester United this season and is yet to play a Premier League minute.

He signed a new contract in the summer but it is hard to argue that United have got value for money out of that extension so far.

Mata admitted when he signed that new deal that he considered departing Old Trafford. In September, it was reported that he was considering his United future in January.

Last month, there was reported interest from Barcelona but journalist Jonatha Shrager has claimed as it stands, Mata is set to remain a United player beyond the end of the January transfer window.

United should let Mata go

The decision to extend Mata’s contract in the summer did not make much sense.

He is not in the same situation as Lee Grant, 38, who is right at the end of his career and has seemingly already moved into a hybrid role which includes coaching.

Mata is 33 and Barcelona’s interest indicates he can still do a job at a good level.

He actually deserves the chance to finish his career at a club where he is playing regularly, rather than excluded matchday squads.

David Silva left Manchester City to join Real Sociedad, and a similar move would suit Mata, getting him back playing and reminding people of what he can do.

When does Mata’s Manchester United contract expire?

He is out of contract at the end of the season, just as he would have been in the summer before signing on for an extra year.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer clearly wanted to keep Mata around; perhaps as a good influence on the dressing room or maybe to have a bigger squad to deal with the impact of Covid.

Ralf Rangnick has said he has enough players in his squad – perhaps hinting he has too many although pointing out United remain in three competitions.

And of course United are planning to have a new permanent manager by the start of next season. The new man may want to keep Mata and the Spaniard will also have a decision to make over whether he wants to work with him.

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United can replace him

It is not that difficult to replace somebody who has played 151 minutes all season, and Mata’s departure would shunt some other fringe options up the pecking order.

Jesse Lingard would have more chance of getting minutes and the likes of Hannibal would be likely to play when Rangnick rotates his side.

At the moment, there is pressure there to put Mata into the team when the manager makes changes because he is an experienced player and a good professional.

But those minutes would be best served going to a young starlet who is making his way in the game and Mata would be best served going elsewhere to play regularly.

Mata does not seem to see it that way, or perhaps the interest just has not materalised from elsewhere and he is resigned to ending another season at United.

Either way, this was not a situation which was hard to envisage when Mata signed his one-year contract extension in the summer and it is hard to see what either the club or the player is getting out of it at this stage.

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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.