It’s fair to say that David Moyes’ reign at Manchester United has not gone quite as he would have liked. It has been a long season filled with disappointments and very little to cheer about.
Having the best away record in the Premier League, performances in the Champions League had featured some positives. Additionally, tying the “want-away”
striker Wayne Rooney to a new five-and-a-half year contract along with the signing of Juan Mata seemed to please most fans.
Many felt that the signing of Juan Mata was something that United needed: Creativity in the midfield and someone who could weigh-in with goals. However, in his first few months, the Spaniard has struggled to recapture the form that saw him named Chelsea’s player of the season for their last two campaigns.
Fans were excited at the prospect of seeing Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata and Adnan Januzaj in the same team. When the moment came for the four to play together, it just didn’t seem to work. RVP and Rooney took the two central positions, with RVP playing as the main man and Rooney playing behind him, left Mata and Januzaj on the wing.
The structure of the team was wrong. Mata can’t play out wide, and ends up drifting inside too much, leaving far too much space out wide for the opposition’s full back and winger to operate in. Mata also doesn’t possess the pace to beat a man. Januzaj is also not the quickest, which leaves the Manchester United side really short on pace. The young Belgian has the ability to beat a man, but none of the front four run in behind teams. When these four play together, teams don’t get stretched and it can be very easy to defend against them.
Mata has really come to his best in the last several weeks. The main reason for his superb performances is that he is playing in the center – his best position. Juan Mata playing in this central role is able to operate more effectively and dictate the flow of a game. However, Mata’s role in the middle seems to be a temporary one, since Moyes has only given him that role because of the injury to RVP.
With the Dutchman injured, Mata plays in behind the main striker and right in front of the four midfielders. This leaves space for proper wingers like Young, Valencia, Nani, or Januzaj to make a real impact on the game. Mata, being in the central role, gives United a lot better shape and structure.
Players like Welbeck will go in behind the defense and stretch teams, leaving pockets of space for players like Mata to operate in. Also, Rooney seems a lot happier playing in front, and has performed well against West Ham and Aston Villa playing as a lone striker.
It’s going to be a tough decision for David Moyes when RVP returns. Does he try and play Van Persie and sacrifice Mata out wide again? Or quite simply will he have to be brave and drop one of his star men? Judging by the performances of the team since RVP’s injury, maybe it wouldn’t be the worst thing leaving the 30-year-old out of the starting line-up. There will certainly be a lot of changes at Old Trafford this summer. Those changes and getting the best out of Juan Mata will be the key to United going forward.