When Jose Mourinho was appointed Manchester United manager, there was genuine fear for one player who didn’t find game time hard to come by last season.
Juan Mata played in every league fixture under Louis van Gaal in 2015-16. He didn’t set the Premier League alight but he did enough to warrant inclusion in United’s plans.
But Mourinho was the one who sold Mata to United in 2014. So the Portuguese’s arrival at Old Trafford seemed to spell doom for the attacking-midfielder.
It certainly hasn’t panned out that way, however. Mata has made seven appearances this season and even took Wayne Rooney’s place in the number 10 position against Leicester City last Saturday.
The Spaniard’s early form, as well as Mourinho’s decision to give him minutes instead of treating him like Bastian Schweinsteiger, suggests any idea of a rift between the pair is nonsense.
But those fears were legitimate at the start of the season. We didn’t know why Mourinho sold Mata, who was Chelsea’s reigning Player of the Season at the time, and he has a history of falling out with his players.
Mata is in a "natural habitat" now
Speaking to the media ahead of United’s Europa League fixture against Zorya on Thursday, Mourinho explained how Mata is in a better environment now than he was in the final stages of his Chelsea career.
“[Chelsea] were playing in a defensive block when we won the title in 2014-15, and it’s one thing having players for that and another having players trying to play in a different way and we are trying to play in a different way," the 53-year-old said, per Goal.
“He is very adaptive with his qualities. He has found a very good natural habitat with us.”
Mata asked to leave Chelsea
On the controversial decision to sell Mata for £37.5 million two years ago, Mourinho reiterated his take that the player asked to leave.
“First of all, I didn’t sell him. My job is not to buy and sell. My job is to coach, to work on the pitch and to advise my board about the transfer policy.
“Secondly, it was Juan that asked to leave and when a player asks to leave I think always you have to think twice.
“And the third point is that my idea for football with the squad and objectives we had at Chelsea is one thing, and the squad I have at Man United and the profile and what I try to do with this club is a completely different situation.
“Juan at Chelsea was a good player, and in my project at Man United he’s a very good player.”