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How Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney Can Play Together For Manchester United

juan mata6 600x600 How Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney Can Play Together For Manchester United

Manchester United manager David Moyes has long preferred a tactic where he plays with two out-and-out wingers who can float inside when needed. Wayne Rooney isn’t 100% match fit, so with the signing of Juan Mata, Moyes dropped Adnan Januzaj Tuesday night against Cardiff City and continued playing with Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia on the wings.

When Wayne Rooney returns, this could very well mean that Mata will have to play in a wide position. Moyes could adapt a 4-2-2-2 formation similar to Manuel Pellegrini’s system at Manchester City that has allowed both David Silva and Samir Nasri to share the pitch together, but that system requires the dropping of wide midfield players depending instead on fullbacks to provide width.

If Moyes were to play a 4-2-2-2, he could use Januzaj and Mata in the midfield while playing Wayne Rooney as a second striker. But if he sticks with a 4-2-3-1, Mata gets pushed wide. And since he does not have the traditional pace or crossing ability of a winger, the formation very easily could become inverted. At Everton, Moyes perfected this tactic using his wingers effectively as playmakers. For example, the pacey Steven Pienaar’s career was made by Moyes’s use of the South African on the left-side of midfield as a playmaker pinching inside at times, which allowed left back Leighton Baines to overlap Pienaar and join the attack.

But Mata lacks Pienaar’s pace, or that of Ashley Young who Moyes has tried to play in a similar role for the Red Devils this season.

Mata looked comfortable in a number ten role in yesterday’s 2-0 victory over Cardiff City and his quality when playing in the center of the pitch is unmistakable. But Moyes very well may have to change his formation when Rooney returns to allow Mata the freedom and space to consistently impact the Manchester United attack.

Moyes is a smart manager, whose track record in English football speaks for itself. He should be able to figure it out, but given his historical preference for out-and-out wingers who have an ability to pinch inside at times, he will need to change tactics to accommodate Mata. No doubt he will do this as the player would not have been bought otherwise, but it still will be interesting to see where he places Mata on the pitch and what the formation change does to other Red Devils attackers who are comfortable in the current setup.

For more Red Devils coverage, read the Manchester United team page for news, analysis and opinion. 

About Kartik Krishnaiyer

A lifelong lover of soccer, the beautiful game, he served from January 2010 until May 2013 as the Director of Communications and Public Relations for the North American Soccer League (NASL). Raised on the Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the old NASL, Krishnaiyer previously hosted the American Soccer Show on the Champions Soccer Radio Network, the Major League Soccer Talk podcast and the EPL Talk Podcast. His soccer writing has been featured by several media outlets including The Guardian and The Telegraph. He is the author of the book Blue With Envy about Manchester City FC. View all posts by Kartik Krishnaiyer →
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One Response to How Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney Can Play Together For Manchester United

  1. Dean Stell says:

    I thought the beginning of yesterdays game looked like a pick-up game for United with all these players who aren’t used to each other having to figure it out on the fly: RVP back from injury, Mata totally new, Giggs in the side, Young back from exile, etc.

    The thing about watching a pick-up game is you can tell pretty fast who can play and who can’t because nobody can fall back on a system.

    It pains me to say this – because I really like Valencia for his hustle and generally good attitude – but he looked like the oddball who wasn’t up to snuff with the other guys on the team. I’m just not sure what is the point of a winger whose crosses are blocked 80% of the time.

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