Juan Mata produced an impressive display in Manchester United’s 2-0 win over Crystal Palace in the Premier League on Wednesday night.
The Spaniard, primarily forced out of position to play out wide, has endured a frustrating season under Louis van Gaal but deployed as a right-sided central midfielder in a more dynamic 4-3-3 formation, he had a continued influence on the game.
A glance at his stats reveals how instrumental he was in Man United’s routine victory over the South London side: 100% tackling, 95% passing, one chance created, two crosses, one clearance.
— Juan Mata García (@juanmata8) April 20, 2016
Van Gaal has been guilty of a variety of positional errors, such as playing Young up front against Spurs, but his constant misuse of Mata is perhaps the most baffling. He did well for a period earlier this season on the right-wing but rarely has been used in the No.10 role he is more suited to and at one point Jesse Lingard was playing there instead of him, with the Spaniard stuck out on the wing instead.
The 27-year-old can, when used correctly, be a massively important asset – not as a breathtaking, explosive machine but more as a nimble tormentor, a ‘death by a thousand cuts’ sort of player and last night’s result was a fitting example. While not massively noticeable, Mata helped to skin a depleted Palace side.
One point to note is Mata was rarely put under pressure by Palace and up against tougher opposition, the sort of battling he’d have to do in a right central midfield role might see him struggle, certainly if he was to play alongside Wayne Rooney there as well who is again unsuited to that position at the moment.
Regardless of Mata’s position in the team, United fans will he hoping that van Gaal elects to remain with the more liberating 4-3-3and jettisons his turgid 4-2-3-1 system as the season enters its crucial stages.