Tactical Analysis: Would Juan Mata really be the answer to Manchester United’s problems?

mata jose

Shockingly for Chelsea fans ‘Sky Sources’ are now reporting that Juan Mata might be nearing a move to Manchester United for around £40 million. The Spanish play-maker and back to back Chelsea player of the year has fallen out of favour with Jose Mourinho and is reportedly keen to move on to rescue his World Cup 2014 dreams. Mata is undoubtedly a top Premier League player, but is he the sort of player United need to kick start their season?

Where does Juan Mata play?

Juan Mata is essentially a number ten. A player who likes to drift out wide from central areas, but primarily be utilized as a central play-maker. One of the issues he has had at Chelsea is that he has not been able to adapt to a wide right role, which is where Jose Mourinho wants to use him. Last season he had a huge impact playing in the no.10 role where he was able to drift in between the lines and move around with a great deal of freedom, the level of freedom that is not afforded to him by Mourinho. In essence then, he’d need to be given license to roam in behind a central striker.

In the 2-1 victory over Crystal Palace Mata was getting into central areas before he was prematurely substituted by Jose Mourinho:


As we can see he spent over 30% of the game in ‘the hole.’ This is where Mata does his best work and it is from this role that he was able to have such a huge impact for Chelsea last season as he scored 12 times and was the league’s top assister with 12. Mata could also theoretically play any of the roles in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Chelsea’s switch to more of a 4-2-1-3 has seen him become less effective/useful in the current system.

What are the tactical implications for Manchester United?

If we accept that Mata does his best work as a no.10 then it seems odd that United would chase Mata. United apparently declined to sign Mesut Ozil, who also operated as a no.10, feeling that they didn’t really need to strengthen here.

Manchester United genuinely speaking operate in a 4-4-2 under David Moyes or in a 4-4-1-1 formation. Against Chelsea this took the form of Adnan Januzaj playing in behind Danny Welbeck, previously we’ve seen Wayne Rooney playing just behind Robin van Persie. With all players fully fit, van Persie and Rooney are United’s best players, so it appears odd to unsettle this by signing Mata to then compete with Rooney for the no.10 role.

The players could be rotated, but if Mata left Chelsea one would imagine that he’d do this for a regular starting place, rather than to be involved in squad rotation. Wayne Rooney does have one year left on his contract as of this summer, so potentially Mata could, be a long term replacement for Rooney, but then, surely it would make more sense for United to move for Mata in the summer, rather than immediately. From a tactical stand point it is difficult to see where Mata can fit in.

David Moyes could potentially change up the tactics and look for a 4-3-3 with Mata given license to roam in a front three with Rooney and RVP, but then there is an issue of defensive solidity, with United far from water-tight at the back as it is. There is talk that Moyes (who traditionally does like a 4-4-2 or 4-5-1) might switch to a 4-2-3-1 which would be more fluid. He could potentially play RVP up top with Rooney, Mata and Januzaj in support. The 4-2-3-1 though is not without it’s problems and United would become even more vulnerable at defending their flanks in this set-up.

Other pressing concerns

Mata is undeniably a fantastic player who would improve any Premier League squad but there are surely more pressing concerns for United if they are too flex their financial muscle in the transfer window. The defence is currently an area of weakness. Patrice Evra, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic all could need replacing this summer. Against Chelsea these defensive weaknesses were clear to see.

There are also weaknesses out wide with Januzaj arguably the clubs best winger. Moyes doesn’t fancy Wilfred Zaha whilst Nani, Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia are all unconvincing. Moyes could want Mata to come in off the right flank but he doesn’t really possess the pace to be effective doing that in a 4-4-2 and he’d also leave huge gaps in behind due to his lack of defensive prowess or awareness.


The move may not materalize but it is an interesting link. Signing Juan Mata would strengthen United but would unsettle the squad. Shinji Kagawa would almost certainly have to leave, whilst Rooney’s future would also be up in the air. Potentially Moyes might like to see Juan Mata playing in behind Rooney, but then that has ramifications for RVP. Any move would be expensive and eye catching, but surely the United defence and centre of midfield are more pressing concerns for Moyes right now. Signing Mata, whilst an attractive and exciting prospect, is probably not the best use of United’s resources at this stage.

2 comments for “Tactical Analysis: Would Juan Mata really be the answer to Manchester United’s problems?

  1. January 23, 2014 at 14:38

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