With Juan Mata's arrival in the January transfer window, the basis of David Moyes' Manchester United seems to be in place. United’s performance so far this season has been nothing but unacceptable. Losing a match is one thing, but to get tactically outclassed again-and-again needs sorting out.
The Mata scoop was supposed to drive United up and help it break free from the shackles the team had created for itself. It was meant to be morale booster. But as many have questioned, did Manchester United really need Juan Mata?
It seems more to be the other way round. Mata was looking for a way out and Manchester United pounced on the opportunity to get his signature. He is the type of player around whom one builds a team. Mata was not the answer to United’s jigsaw puzzle.
With Wayne Rooney signing a bumper contract and Robin van Persie unarguably the team’s talismanic striker, the duo’s place in the starting eleven is unquestionable. What this means is that Mata will never get the opportunity to play where he plays best, just behind the striker. He has always been most potent there; looking for spaces between the lines, making those mazy diagonal runs to put defenders out of position.
The transfer also does not bode well for Shinji Kagawa. Made in the same mould as the Spaniard, Kagawa was never quite able to replicate or build upon what he was at Dortmund. His tryst with destiny never happened at Old Trafford. With Mata in the squad, it pushes the Japanese further down the pecking order. Adnan Januzaj’s meteoric rise has further sidelined him.
From what can be seen from United’s recent matches involving Mata, is a shift from the traditional wing play to a more Chelsea style three behind the main striker formation with the Spaniard getting a free role to roam around the pitch to get the ball and find spaces.
The January transfer window is supposed for the teams to answer its most immediate concerns. For Manchester United, altering its entire tactical approach in the middle of a torrid season by bringing in Mata was not the way to go about it.
David Moyes’ decision to look at the larger picture in the long run when a top four finish this season is a major concern puts a question mark on his ability to answer the right question at the right time. A new player, new formations and tactics need time to blend in. And time is what Manchester United cannot afford right now.
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