Manchester United already have an ideal midfielder for the style of play of Erik ten Haag – Daniel Murphy

It is a great pity that a career that has been so dazzling and spiced with countless moments of brilliance seems to end in a wet blow. Well, at least at Manchester United.

World Cup, European Championship, Champions League, FA Cup, League Cup, Europa League and Copa del Rey, Juan Mata he enjoyed a career laden with winning medals. A player who played a key role in one of the greatest national teams of all time, who was amazing when he moved to the Premier League with Chelsea and continued that magic for a while at Old Trafford.

Yet despite spending the last eight years of his career in United, the vast majority of it is forgettable and it’s funny. Go back with your thoughts on his Mata highlights and the only thing that really comes to mind is his outstanding headshot against Liverpool.

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Despite scoring 51 goals and collecting 47 assists, no other moment stands out, and that is due to the fact that the team has never built around him. He never became a major man even though he has all the talent for it.

It was a real, shocking blow when United managed to kidnap Mata from Chelsea, where he was absolutely brilliant in the 10th role for two and a half seasons. In fact, despite playing nearly 150 games more at United, he managed to score just eight goals more than he managed at Stamford Bridge.

It just shows how effectively he played in the attacking midfield position, but United rarely, if ever, played with him there. Whether it was Wayne Rooney, Paul Pogba, Henrikh Mkhitaryan or a number of defensively oriented midfielders, Mata was regularly shifted to the flanks where his skills were nowhere near useful enough to adapt to someone else.



Mata at Old Trafford

At least he played then, because in the last two seasons he barely had a shot. In the last campaign, he got only 861 minutes, and that was further reduced in this campaign to a weak 311. Mata may be doing well, because he recently turned 34, but this serious lack of time to play is absolutely confusing. Especially when you consider how completely sad United have been this season and how much they have lacked a player of his exact skill.

United was hungry for creative sparks, imagination, ingenuity and only basic skills in passing all season when Mato was just spinning his thumbs on the bench – if he was that lucky. As revealed Monday as United celebrated to a 3-0 win over Brentford in Ralph Rangnick’s best-ever performance, Mata is still more than capable at the top level.

He started his first league game of the season – a travesty – against visiting Bees and United immediately looked much more like a cohesive unit with him on the pitch and, crucially, playing in the middle. The ball moved quickly, exciting passes were made, the attacks merged rather than unraveled, and Cristiano Ronaldo looked encouraged because he had a player with him on his wavelength. Old Trafford has once again witnessed some Mata spell, but unfortunately this will almost certainly be the last time.

Matin’s contract expires this summer, and his emotional farewell on Monday doesn’t look like there will be another year of extension. This is a pity because he cannot better fit what Erik ten Haag will want to bring from the sidelines.

United’s midfield needs to be seriously reworked to give the upcoming manager a profile of a player capable of making his fun style of attacking football work. But if Mata stayed, it would be one signature less, at least in the short term.

It doesn’t mean Mata can start every match, but he was never a player who relied on tempo or any other physical trait, his game was always at a level of skill, composure and breathtaking technique. There is no doubt that he is in the right mold for the Ten Hague side and that he could play a big role if he stays.

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There are good arguments that a purge is needed on the team for the Dutchman to put his stamp on things, but Mata is certainly not a disruptive influence and never was, even when his lack of time to play had to be furious. In fact, the respect he evokes and his experience would have a positive impact in any locker room.

As will likely be revealed next season when he returns to Spain and enjoys the inevitable renaissance of his career, Mata still has all the qualities to make an impact and will be a loss to United if they allow him to show it elsewhere.



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