At the turn of the year, when the news broke that Manchester United were on the verge of making a club record signing, excitement was tantamount. Juan Mata had spent his first few years in the Premier League dazzling crowds with his typical Spanish style of classy, intricate football.
The perfect number ten.
However, in the short time that elapsed between him being named Chelsea’s Player of the Year and Jose Mourinho taking the reigns once again at Stamford Bridge, Mata very quickly fell out of favour.
It was clear that Mourinho saw something more in the Willian, Oscar and Eden Hazard partnership than if Mata was part of any combination, and you must say that Chelsea haven’t laboured in his absence.
But have United strengthened with his arrival?
The signing was not a necessity in terms of what he added to the squad. United have rarely ever been lacking in attacking options, but it was an important signing for Ed Woodward and David Moyes as they just needed to sign a name. To say to the fans, ‘we can do it’.
His poor form last term can be easily linked back to the role he was being asked to play. David Moyes couldn’t seem to find a way to incorporate him into a system which appeared to dictate that the Spaniard had to be shackled to the left hand side.
However, following RVP’s injury at the back end of last season, Moyes brought Mata infield to play in behind the striker and we saw glimpses of the man who had been the Premier League’s star just twelve months previous.
Many United fans were excited by this rise in form and felt that it was the perfect stepping stone for Mata to kick on this season and really make his mark. Pre-season was equally promising, but with United’s struggles in competitive action continuing, Mata has continued to underwhelm.
He epitomises a player that has lost all his confidence. The intricate little passes on the edge of the box seems to have completely fallen out of his game. If you watch the first three Premier League games of the season back, the amount of times he cuts onto his left foot and just drifts an aimless ball into the penalty area is untrue.
He doesn’t seem to want to try anything out of the ordinary which is bizarre because, on his day, he’s unplayable. He had a glorious chance at Burnley after some stunning link up play between Angel Di Maria and Wayne Rooney, but slipped over at the vital moment. The decisiveness in his game has faded.
His Premier League goal record in recent matches is actually very good, but that stems from the upturn in form previously mentioned at the end of last season. This term, like many members of the squad, he’s been wholly unconvincing.
I fear for Juan Mata’s place in the team. LvG now has an embarrassment of riches to choose from up at the front end of the team, and you sense there is no way he can incorporate Rooney, van Persie, Falcao, Di Maria and Mata into the same starting lineup.
It’s time for the real Juan Mata to stand up. A truly terrific player that can make the difference in this team, but he has to believe that that is the case, otherwise LvG may just try and recoup some of the record transfer outlay he’s just spent.