It was assumed by many that Mourinho’s arrival in June would signal an end to Mata’s time at Old Trafford, with the Spaniard’s lack of speed and strength seemingly at odds with the 54-year-old’s emphasis on power going forward.
However, to the delight – and possibly even surprise – of supporters, Mata has been a key aspect of Mourinho’s set-up at Man United, claiming nine goals in 31 appearances.
And Mata, speaking to ManUtd.com, was quick to point towards his impressive goals tally at United this season.
“I’m happy with my goals total,” he said. “I’ve got nine so far and hopefully I can score many more between now and the end of the season, and then look back on a really good season.
“So far in February that amount of goals for a midfielder is not bad. I haven’t set a target but hopefully I can do it again and have 10 goals for three seasons in a row.”
When asked whether Mourinho had asked him to seek out more opportunities in the box, Mata said: “Well yes, I think he appreciates some different qualities from different players so whenever I play I always try to be in that position that allows me to create a chance or finish one.
“Sometimes you score, sometimes you don’t, but it’s important to always be in the right positions. I try to play with the ball – possession, passes, assists – but scoring goals has also been a big part of my career.”
Mata’s footballing career has always been one of adaptation. Even from an early age he would have needed to implement a style capable of combatting the superior levels of physicality around him.
This was something he mastered at Valencia, but he had to once again readapt upon arriving at Chelsea, this time to the sheer speed and intensity of English football. Once again, the transition was seamless.
And with Mourinho at the helm, Mata had to evolve even further. He needed to be more than just a tidy presence on the right hand side; he needed, above anything, to develop a style that places greater emphasis on subtly breaking down the opposition and carving out opportunities, and last weekend’s 2-0 win over Watford – a game in which he scored – was a perfect example of exactly that.