Manchester United took a major step towards lifting the dark cloud that currently hangs over Old Trafford after sealing the transfer of Juan Mata from Chelsea on Saturday evening. In a club record deal, believed to be in the region of £37 million, the little Spaniard arrives to help transform United’s season after Wednesday’s Capital One Cup exit at the hands of Sunderland heaped further pressure on the under-fire David Moyes.
Understandably, the United boss was delighted to have captured a creative player of Mata’s pedigree and is clearly relishing the prospect of shaping his side around his new signing, suggesting that the Spaniard will be thrown straight in against Cardiff on Tuesday…
“Juan is one of the finest playmakers in the game today and it’s a real pleasure to have secured his signature. He’s been instrumental in Chelsea’s recent success, with a notable 28 assists and 32 goals in his last two Premier League seasons. I have been impressed with the excitement he has shown to be part of the new Manchester United. I know our fans have admired Juan for some time now – he has always played well against us – and I know they will be delighted to see him in the red of United, starting on Tuesday.”
As for Mata, the lure of a move to United is obvious and, having been frustrated by a lack of pitch time under Jose Mourinho at Chelsea, it’s clear that this was a major factor in prompting a move away from the Bridge. When quizzed on his preferred role at United, Mata was quick to point out that his priority, first and foremost, will be to be involved…
“I love to play. I think I can play in the three positions behind the striker. I played on the left when I arrived at Chelsea, this season I have played on the right and last season, which was probably the best season of my career, I played behind the striker. But it doesn’t matter as long as I play.”
A product of the Real Madrid youth system, Mata first played for the club’s B team in 2006/07, scoring 10 times in 39 appearances. Unable to convince his Bernabeu paymasters of his first-team potential, he was snapped up by Valencia the following year and, over the following four seasons, established himself as one of the finest midfield talents in La Liga.
Mata’s time at the Mestalla got off to a tentative start, with five goals and a single assist over 24 appearances in 2007/08. Installed as a regular in the first XI thereafter, he racked up 28 goals and 35 assists over 105 league matches before Chelsea came calling in the summer of 2011, shelling out around £23.5m for the playmaker’s services.
Despite plying his trade under a succession of managers at Stamford Bridge, Mata was an overwhelming success over his first two seasons. His first year at the London club harvested six goals and 13 assists, or 16 in Fantasy Premier League (FPL) terms, before he stepped up another level in 2012/13, with 11 goals and 17 assists (18 in FPL), summing up his Fantasy potential.
Under Jose Mourinho, though, Mata has toiled. The Special One has been critical of the Spaniard’s lack of work-rate and has started him in just 11 of Chelsea’s 22 league games so far, with Oscar his favoured option in the “number 10” role. Nonetheless, with 828 minutes to his name thus far, Mata’s impact has been minimal for the Blues – he’s produced just two assists so far this season.
On the international stage, Mata produced eight goals and seven assists from 20 games at youth level for Spain, helping his country win the 2006 European Under-19 Championships and the 2011 European Under-21 Championships . He’s also turned out 31 times for the senior side, returning nine goals and seven assists, and was part of the squad which won the World Cup in 2010 and the European Championships two years later.
Clearly, as the first marquee signing of the Moyes era, Mata looks set to become a key member of the United first-team. The issue, of course, is where he will fit into his new manager’s plans. When Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie are finally free from injury, the trio seem automatic starters, suggesting Mata is set for a role on the wing, with Rooney tucking in behind the Dutchman in a formation more akin to a 4-2-3-1.
As Mata himself has stated, although predominantly left-footed, he’s a player that offers United options on both flanks, though a role on the right as an inverted winger would be a move away from the traditional alternatives such as Nani and Antonio Valencia. Essentially, his arrival leaves a number of players vying for the remaining attacking role. Similarly to the other aforementioned wide men, Shinji Kagawa and Ashley Young have failed to impress since Moyes rolled up to Old Trafford and their game time looks set to be further diminished upon the Spaniard’s arrival.
Despite his recent contribution of six goals in as many Gameweeks, there’s no doubt Danny Welbeck will struggle to retain a regular starting berth once the injuries clear, whilst Mata’s arrival may also be detrimental for Adnan Januzaj’s minutes. Moyes has been wary of relying too much on the youngster in his debut season but has been almost forced to start Januzaj in seven of the last eight Gameweeks – with Mata on board, Moyes may look to ease the burden on the teenage prodigy. It’s also worth noting that Mata is cup tied for United’s Champions League campaign, surely ensuring his league starts and therefore giving Moyes the opportunity to use his other wide options on the European stage.
Now down to 9.4 in FPL (9.0 in the Sky Sports game and 7.0 in the Sun Dream Team), Mata’s move to United is set to reignite his Fantasy potential after slipping from our radars. An ownership of 3% highlights his differential appeal ahead of games against Cardiff, Stoke, Fulham and Palace in the next five and, if Rooney and van Persie remain on the sidelines, he’s likely to be handed set-pieces and corners as Moyes looks to the Spaniard’s creativity to help rescue his disappointing debut season at the helm.
While Mata clearly has huge Fantasy appeal, there’s little doubt that there is fierce competition in his price bracket with Eden Hazard, Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla and the City pair of Yaya Toure and David Silva all vying for slots in our midfield.
As mentioned, Mata offers significant differential appeal – a big factor for those looking to make up ground with their January Wildcard moves. Having said that, both Cazorla and Silva also meet this criteria: the Arsenal man boasts FPL ownership of just 2.8%, while City’s playmaker has lived in the shadow of Toure this season and can be found in just 5.8% of FPL squads. While Mata arrives to slot into an ailing United, struggling to kill off teams, both Cazorla and Silva are part of free-scoring sides, oozing confidence.
Mata certainly has the talent to change the current landscape. United will likely be revived by his presence but it could take the return of both Rooney and Van Persie before we can really assess the full potential that Mata can offer. In the short-term, then, that may well see the majority steer clear, assess his initial form and settle on more assured assets. That will leave early adopters hoping that Mata’s impact is immediate and that his early returns are on a par with his outstanding spells in the blue of Chelsea.