Juan Mata has been discussing his role at Manchester United this season, noting that he enjoys the freedom he receives playing on the right hand side.
The Spaniard, ever since arriving at Old Trafford back in 2014, has been deployed primarily on the right hand side under three different managers.
And he has made a promising start to the new campaign, producing crafty, enterprising performances alongside Henrikh Mkhitaryan at No.10.
And Mata, reflecting on his role in Jose Mourinho‘s side, noted that playing as an inverted winger suits his qualities on the ball.
“Let’s say offensive midfielder,” he said. “But, obviously, I am playing more now on the right-wing, when I try to come inside and create space for my team-mates, and with the overlaps of Matteo [Darmian], Antonio [Valencia] or Ashley [Young], it makes things easier for me.”
“And you know, it’s this kind of freedom that allows me to be in touch with the ball, that’s where I feel comfortable. As much time as I have the ball, I feel better and I feel that my game grows and that’s what I try to do.
“I consider myself as this kind of attacking midfielder, trying to find the gaps between the opposition midfielders and defenders and produce what the team needs between the lines.”
The Spaniard may not grab the headlines too often, but his presence on the right hand side ensures that United’s attack remains multi-dimensional and unpredictable.
While Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford opt for an explosive, direct approach on the left flank, the 29-year-old is busy carefully outfoxing opponents on the other side, biding his time, waiting for gaps to open up.
But a lot of what he does is unseen: those drifting runs towards the middle to give Antonio Valencia room to surge forward; clever flicks around the corner; mesmerising control and awareness of what surrounds him. Small yet crucial aspects of United’s attacking impetus.
You could call him an attritional footballer, I guess. Mata finishes you off by a ‘death by a thousand cuts’ method rather than barging you to one side. But he deserves to be called something of a magician for that exact same reason.