The Red Devils’ underrated master

Although Juan Mata isn’t always the first name on Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United team sheet, there’s no denying what an integral component of United’s squad he is.

Offering that crucial artistry and creativity that’s an extremely rare commodity in the United squad, which is full of fast, powerful and athletic options in attacking areas, he certainly gives his side another dimension going forward.

When listening to the Portuguese tactician speak following Mata’s contract renewal earlier in the year, he gave a clear indication of how vital he is to his plans, despite all the negative talk about the pair that dated back to their time together at Chelsea. “Mata is very important,” he insisted. “He is another one, big story when I arrived one and a half years ago – ‘Mata in trouble, in trouble, in trouble’.

“Now he’s getting an extension of one more year. (He is) an important player for me, an important player for the club, an important player for the other players.”

Whenever deployed, the gifted genius’ ability to manufacture opportunities for his teammates, especially when facing hard to break down, deep sitting defenses is a real asset for the Red Devils. So comfortable at playing under pressure, Mata always remains calm in the face of danger, as he relishes provoking pressing actions from his adversaries, which crucially can generate a free man further upfield. Subsequently, he then uses his tremendous vision and distribution to unleash his teammates into favorable positions to either score or fabricate an opening for a colleague.

If no options are available, his razor-sharp dribbling and ball control enable him to buy himself time before releasing the ball calmly and effectively. Never rushed or hurried, Mata’s poise, execution, and judgment must make him a joy to play beside.

Granted the freedom to roam and use his intuitive movement to find space in the half spaces, true central midfield zones or in the 10 spaces, where he creates vital overloads in these areas, this aspect of his armory is not only beneficial for himself but also his teammates. Moreover, the way he’ll shrewdly perform positional rotations or push up onto the shoulder of the last man and embark on hard to track runs in behind only amplify his worth.

Former United legend, Gary Neville, recently touched on how essential his presence is to free up the likes of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez, stating: “Mata certainly has got the composure to hold the ball and allow those players to make their runs so they can get up the pitch and get into a point where they can play one-on-one.”

Further testament to his worth comes via the statistics that state that when Mata starts, United win a whopping 82% of their matches. Whereas, when he begins on the bench, they’re only winning 47% of the time. Quite a stark difference indeed, and numbers that should give Mourinho plenty of food for thought, especially in the wake of Man Utd’s devastating Champions League exit to Sevilla last week, where the Spaniard didn’t enter the field until the 77th minute.

He may not be the quickest, the strongest or the most dynamic player at Man Utd, but Mata’s unique skillset unquestionably makes him a brilliant option for Mourinho – especially when being played from the outset.

By @Licencetoroam

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