After seemingly confirming himself as one of the best players in the league, Juan Mata endured a difficult season with the arrival of Jose Mourinho at Chelsea. His much hailed move to Manchester United saw him struggle for consistent performances. The Spaniard now has a chance to put that behind him and has the chance to flourish under van Gaal.
Mata’s best performances for Chelsea were always when he played behind the striker in the number 10 role and dictated play. Being able to create chances for his team and score a fair share himself – his final full season for Chelsea saw Mata score 20 goals for the London club and 6 during his short Manchester United career.
Under the system that van Gaal reportedly wants to play – the 3-5-2 that he utilised with Holland at the World Cup – there is a place available for Mata to make his own. For Holland, Wesley Snedijer held the role of number 10 at the World Cup and despite not being at the form he was a few years ago he created 10 chances and scored a vital goal.
Comfortable with both feet and a low sense of gravity which enabled him to drift past players with his excellent close control and touch – presented for his goal against Roma at the weekend – Mata can stretch defences by drifting out to either flank and opening up spaces for a midfielder to make a run into the box potentially unmarked.
Mata’s precise passing behind the defensive lines – he made 63 key passes and 8 accurate through balls for Manchester United and Chelsea combined last season – will be important with two strikers playing ahead of him and if United can deploy a fast attacking player – similar to the role Robben played where his pace smashed past and through defences – the issues with breaking teams down that the Red Devils endured last season will not be repeated.
With Mata suiting the role perfectly and coming into the peak stage of his career, there is a real chance for the Spanish international to flourish under the guidance of Van Gaal and return to the form of the 2012/13 season when he won over not only his own supporters but also the oppositions’.