Juan Mata gave an excellent display during Manchester United’s 1-0 win over Manchester City in the League Cup on Wednesday night.
The Spaniard, deployed on the right hand side, was characteristically composed on the ball all evening and crowned a complete display with the winning goal – a 54 minute close-range strike that came after some good work from Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
A glance at his stats shed light on what was a practically faultless performance.
— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) October 26, 2016
Here is another stat for you: with Mata in the starting XI, Man United have won five out of six games; with Mata on the bench, however, Mourinho’s men have only managed one point in four games.
This is, of course, absolutely no coincidence. Mata’s presence can at times go unnoticed, such is the subtle, composed nature of his approach. He has become United’s honorary silent assassin, espousing an aura similar to that of Ji-Sung Park – not necessarily singled out as a star performer, but crucial when it comes to putting together a well-construced, purposeful performance.
Mata’s diminutive stature and lack of speed should, with the Premier League’s notoriously physical nature, preclude him from succeeding at this level. But the Spaniard, throughout his development, has placed intelligence, vision and technique at the forefront of his game. The result being, of course, the type of performance United fans saw last night: always present, waiting in a pocket of space, and yet seemingly undetectable.