The Spanish midfielder seemed to be on the way out when Jose Mourinho was announced as the new Manchester United manager. However, Juan Mata could be the key to the Portuguese manager’s success at his new club.


The Red Devils were humbled by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Sunday as goals from Pedro, Gary Cahill, Eden Hazard and N’golo Kante sealed a 4-0 victory for the Blues. Manchester United are now six points from the top of the table and Jose Mourinho is under serious pressure to deliver results.

An interesting stat emerged after the game against Chelsea. It looks like Spaniard Juan Mata is the key to success for the Red Devils this season. They have won 13 out of 15 possible points in games that he has started, but only 1 out of 12 in games for which he has been benched.

Throughout the summer there was speculation that Mata was on his way out of the club. Mourinho had sold him to United when he was the manager of Chelsea, and not many believed that the Spaniard would have a future at Old Trafford under ‘the Special One’.

However, the 28-year-old was an integral member of the team in the early part of the season. He starred in each of United’s first three matches — victories against Bournemouth, Southampton and Hull City. The midfielder was then dropped for the Manchester derby, a game that has proven to be the turning point of the Red Devils’ season.

Mourinho’s lost 2-1 to Man City and then 3-1 to Watford the very next week. Mata returned to the starting XI for the next game against Leicester City and United returned to winning ways. The 4-1 defeat of the Foxes was followed by a very competitive draw against Stoke City, where Mata played well yet again.

This still wasn’t enough for Mourinho, as the Spaniard was dropped for the next match against Liverpool at Anfield, which ended in a goalless draw. The Red Devils were then hammered by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last weekend in a game where once again Mata did not make the starting XI.

The rationale behind Mourinho’s selection of Mata could be that he does not trust him defensively. Mata has been dropped for the heavyweight clashes against City, Liverpool and Chelsea. However, he was also inexplicably dropped for the game against Watford.

Manchester United's Spanish midfielder Juan Mata (C) talks with Manchester United's Portuguese manager Jose Mourinho (L) and Manchester United's Portuguese assistant manager Rui Faria (R) after he is substituted late on during the FA Community Shield football match between Manchester United and Leicester City at Wembley Stadium in London on August 7, 2016. (Photo credit: Ian Kington/AFP/Getty Images)

Manchester United’s Spanish midfielder Juan Mata (C) talks with Manchester United’s Portuguese manager Jose Mourinho (L) and assistant manager Rui Faria (R) after he is substituted late on during the FA Community Shield football match between Manchester United and Leicester City at Wembley Stadium in London on August 7, 2016. (Photo courtesy: Ian Kington/AFP/Getty Images)

The attacking play has definitely been much better with Mata on the pitch than without him. United need a player who can control the midfield in advanced positions and build attacks — a trequartista — and the dynamic playmaker is the perfect fit for the number 10 position.

It simply cannot be a coincidence that Man United have scored 11 goals in nine games when Mata has started, but only two goals in four games when he has been on the bench. In this regard, the cautious Mourinho needs to accept that he has to change things tactically.

It is often said that attack is the best form of defence, and Mourinho could adopt a little bit of this philosophy at Old Trafford. He already has two strong central midfielders in Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera; the latter especially has been phenomenal in recent weeks.

The two holding midfielders can do enough of a job in covering the defence to allow Mata to be given the license to play further forward. It may go against the principles of Mourinho’s defensive strategy, but it is something that he must consider in the face of such poor results.

Although sometimes statistics may not be the ultimate evidence, Mata is definitely one of the most intelligent players in the squad and will also be able to act as a leader on the pitch. His former Chelsea outcast could end up being the key to Jose Mourinho’s success at Man United.

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