60 minutes of Manchester United’s FA Cup clash against Sheffield United had passed before Louis van Gaal realised enough was enough.
The United boss hooked Juan Mata, replacing him with Memphis Depay.
Van Gaal would go on to blame Mata’s refusal to stick to the wing as the reason for the substitution, saying: “We needed to play with wingers to make the pitch as big as possible. Memphis and Lingard did that, I also asked that of Mata but he was never there.”
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Against Newcastle United on Tuesday, Mata didn’t even start. The Spaniard played the final 15 minutes of the 3-3 draw.
These are testing times for the 27-year-old. It seems there is no place for Mata in a central position and the only way he will find a place in Van Gaal’s team is on the right wing.
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Mata needs to understand that he will not have a future at United if he fails to conform to Van Gaal’s wishes. And if Van Gaal wants Mata to play on the right, so be it.
The former Chelsea player hasn’t publicly voiced his concerns about playing on the wing so we cannot know for certain whether he’s genuinely annoyed at this.
He played on the right in United’s 2-1 win at Liverpool last season and scored both goals, so we can presume not.
And Mata enjoyed his best spell of the season while playing on the right-hand side.
In September, he played five games. Four on the right of midfield, one in the middle.
In the four games Mata played on the right he scored three goals and had three assists.
In his one appearance in the middle, a 2-1 loss to PSV Eindhoven, he failed to create or score a goal.
So Van Gaal is fully justified in playing the Spaniard on the right-hand side. There’s enough evidence of Mata playing well in the position for the Dutchman to go by.
That will serve in Mata’s favour, and will earn him earn another shot in the line-up soon. And when Van Gaal tells Mata to stick to the wing, the Spaniard must listen.
The reason Jose Mourinho sold Mata to United in 2014 was due to the midfielder’s unwillingness to track back, so he is fully aware of the consequences of refusing to meet a manager’s demands.
The same fate will befall Mata again if he refuses to listen to Van Gaal.