There was a time, not that long ago, when Juan Mata was widely regarded as the Premier League’s best attacking midfielder. The Manchester United No. 8 was certainly English football’s most effective playmaker during his spell with Chelsea - at least for two of the two-and-a-half seasons he was at Stamford Bridge.
The Spain international scored 12 goals in 54 matches during his first campaign with Chelsea following his £23.5 million move from Valencia in August 2011.
That proved enough to earn him Chelsea’s Player of the Year award - an accolade he would also claim at the end of the 2012-13 campaign after netting 20 goals and providing countless assists in his 64 appearances for the Blues.
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Mata's problems with Mourinho
But everything went downhill for Mata following the arrival of Jose Mourinho in the summer of 2013 - as many at the time predicted it would.
Mata, some Chelsea fans feared, was not a ‘Mourinho-type player’ - and so it proved.
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The Portuguese coach effectively forced Mata out of Stamford Bridge by leaving him on the bench for the club’s important matches and telling the press he needed to work harder during matches.
Van Gaal not convinced by Mata
Louis van Gaal, one of the coaches who influenced Mourinho, may have similar thoughts on the Spaniard: a luxury player who lacks the physicality and stamina to become an effective cog in his machine.
Mata may have won the heart of David Moyes, but he has clearly failed to convince Van Gaal of his suitability to “the philosophy™”.
The Spaniard has played 31 minutes of Manchester United’s previous five Premier League matches and will probably be left on the substitutes’ bench for Wednesday night’s clash against Newcastle United at St James’ Park - despite the fact he produced arguably his best performance since joining the Red Devils 14 months ago at the Magpies’ home ground.
Even Juan Mata has a temper
In terms of characteristics, Mata must be a manager’s dream: laid-back and respectful but hungry to win at the same time.
But even football’s Mr. Nice Guy has a limit - as we saw in January 2014, shortly before his move to United, after being substituted by Mourinho against Southampton.
Mata, probably for the first time in his professional career, showed something resembling dissent that night as he he took his seat in the dugout.
What are the chances we see similar frustration from the universally-loved Spaniard tomorrow night?
Mata must consider United exit if snubbed again
If Van Gaal either fails to name Mata amongst his starting eleven, or subs him off at half-time, the former Chelsea star should seriously consider his options.
He is far too good to play the role of bit-part player at Old Trafford - and he will be acutely aware of that fact, even though his confidence has taken a few hefty knocks over the past 18 months.
Like Angel di Maria and Radamel Falcao, Van Gaal is failing to get the best out of Mata, another of the most talented players in his squad.
That the veteran Dutch coach would rather deploy Marouane Fellaini over Mata and punt balls up to the big Belgian really ought to be more concerning for Manchester United supporters.
At the moment you get the feeling that Mata, who clearly enjoys being a Manchester United player, wouldn’t be particularly concerned if Van Gaal was given the boot at the end of the season.
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