Tactical Analysis: Is David Moyes getting the best out of Juan Mata in a 4-4-2?


David Moyes signed Juan Mata from Chelsea with a great deal of hope and expectation. Juan Mata was supposed to turn up and transform his side from top four pretenders to top four contenders. This however, hasn’t been the case with Manchester United winning just one of Mata’s first four games at the club (in fact they have not won in their last three league games). Much of this stems from wider tactical problems, but does Moyes need to re-think his tactics to get the best out of Mata?

Where is Mata being utilized at present?

Some people felt Moyes would shift his tactics to a 4-2-3-1 formation to get the best out of Wayne Rooney, Mata and Adnan Januzaj in behind Robin van Persie, although that hasn’t been the case thus far. Mata has been deployed as a right midfielder or on the left. Against Arsenal he was stationed as a left midfielder, although he did drift inside to get close to the front two (as we’d expect):



Obviously United were playing title chasers Arsenal away from home, but we can see Mata spent a lot of the game in defensive areas, spending time in a deep position on the left and in the area protecting his own goal (also from the left). This is clearly not going to get the best out of a player who is best when he has the ball at his feet. Resultantly he did not have a very good game, with his one major contribution being a very good through ball into van Persie (incidentally Mata had come inside off the flank to create this chance- the only chance he created in his 74 minutes of action).

Against Fulham he actually played quite well and saw a lot of the ball, although he did this from the right flank in a game that was epitomized by a deluge of crosses into the box from David Moyes’ side. Manchester United attempted 82 crosses, a style of play that is both out-dated but also not exactly conducive to getting the best out of Juan Mata, who does his most productive work between the lines of the defence and the midfeld, not out wide.

Where can things change?

Mata’s not done badly in this role and against Fulham he created five chances for his team-mates and in his four appearances thus far has created a total of 13 chances (as many as Ashley Young has created all season). But, he could be doing a lot better and be working more effectively. Against Fulham he saw a lot of the ball and completed 96% of his passes:



The issue with this is that most of those passes were in wide areas, particularly clustered wide right. These aren’t the areas you’d want Juan Mata to be in. Mata needs to be, as stated in the area between the opposition defence and midfield, which is where he can thread eye of the needle passes into the strikers. As w can see above though, ┬áhe did not influence the play in these areas.

One option is to potentially drop a striker and play Mata in the number 10 role, which would see him seeing a lot more of the ball and using it in areas he wants to, not tracking back down the left flank as he was versus Arsenal. It is in this role he played in United’s only win of Mata’s four fixtures, a 2-0 win over Cardiff in which he created four chances.

Moyes seems reluctant to use Januzaj, Mata and Rooney in the same side with van Persie. This might be down to the fact that the three former players are all inclined to get into central areas behind the striker. The only way to remedy this is if Moyes ditches his inclination to cross the ball so frequently and allow for a more fluid style of play to develop.


Right now David Moyes is not getting the best out of Juan Mata. The cross-centric style of play in which Mata is used on the flank isn’t the best way to utilize Mata’s talents. Mata needs to be allowed freedom to work in central areas, preferably behind a striker. If Moyes switches to a slightly bolder 4-2-3-1 formation he can fit Mata, Januzaj and Rooney into the same side behind van Persie. The only issue would be that the full-backs are arguably not good enough to provide width and defensive assurance for his team. Moyes doesn’t really have anything to lose though and right now his 4-4-2 is not exactly inspiring the side or the United fans.

2 comments for “Tactical Analysis: Is David Moyes getting the best out of Juan Mata in a 4-4-2?

  1. plechazunga
    February 15, 2014 at 05:27

    Moyes out

    No, seriously, it’s getting clearer every week that he has no clue. Longballing against Fulham @ Old Trafford? Really? This ain’t just a small transition crisis, this is bad management.
    Mata is brilliant of course, but for 40 million they could’ve gotten two underrated, yet very good midfielders. (Rakitic? Parejo? Pjanic? Gonzalo Castro?)

    Spalletti would be the smartest choice to replace him, Montella would be the second smartest, Bielsa would be the adventurous choice, or if they feel really adventurous they can do a “Sacchi” and hire someone virtually unknown from the lower leagues.

    ManUtd is one of the most reputable clubs in the world, and this just won’t do.

  2. GW
    February 15, 2014 at 16:38

    This is a great article and I love this website. I appreciate the analysis.

    Here you were a little gentle with your analysis. Mata is a great addition although perhaps a tad expensive. You’re absolutely correct that the 442 formation does not suit him nor the fantastic players around him. A 4231 would be better or even better still would be a 4114 where the top four (RvP, Rooney, Mata and Hernandez/Janujaz,/Kagawa) would be given the freedom to roam and be creative rather than feeling constrained to remain in position. I like the 1-1 in the middle rather than 2 because it would allow Carrick to play a little higher and Fletcher or better yet Phil Jones to drop back in deeper support of the defense. Rafael and Evra would still have the ability to come forward and cross the ball but the key is this must not be the only tactic.

    David Moyes noted that cross is in Utd’s DNA. Crossing is in every club’s DNA. That’s simply a normal part of the game. Was lacking is not the use of Mata but rather the stubborn insistence on wing play. Heavy reliance on wing play is typical of a mid to low-table club and particularly of a manager that doesn’t trust in the link-up, short-passing qualities of his forwards. Think Tony Pulis and Stoke City here. It’s certainly a style of play that does not make the best use of Mata, Rooney, Janujaz, Kagawa, Hernandez, or RvP.

    A more pointed analysis would instead ask whether David Moyes will change his style or if he simply needs to be replaced. He needs to grow up or grow out.

    Thanks for the article!

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