Jose Mourinho’s appointment as Manchester United manager caused immediate speculation surrounding the future of Juan Mata, but the Spanish playmaker has proven himself to be an indispensable part of Mourinho’s squad.
Mata excelled in his natural playmaking position against Leicester City last weekend, scoring clinically when put in by a combination of Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard, and also turned provider for Marcus Rashford with an assist.
The Spanish international was sold by Jose Mourinho as Chelsea manager, but the Champions League-winning manager was quick to confirm that he was not directly responsible. “First of all, I didn’t sell him,” said Mourinho. “My job is not to buy and sell. My job is to coach, to work on the pitch and 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,” clarified Mourinho. In the 2013/14 season, Mata was battling for a spot in Spain’s World Cup squad as it approached at the end of that season. Chelsea boasted a deep midfield packed with quality; names competing directly for his spot included Eden Hazard, Oscar, Kevin de Bruyne, Andre Schurrle and Willian, with sufficient playing time not guaranteed.
Juan Mata was moved on to current club Manchester United for a then-record fee of 37 million pounds, and rumours were circulating during pre-season that Mourinho was quick to dispose of his Spanish playmaker once again. Multiple reports were claiming that Mata had gotten off to a bad start with his new United manager, with a move to Everton likely.
Nothing ever came of that, and instead, Mata has proven his worth to Mourinho. He has scored two goals and made one assist from four starts, looking particularly dangerous when he is playing through the middle rather than out on the right. He is undoubtedly one of the biggest beneficiaries of Mourinho’s stylistic changes as Manchester United boss, when compared with his approach at Chelsea. “Chelsea were playing in a defensive block when we won the title in 2014/15…we are trying to play in a different way,” says Mourinho. “He is very adaptive with his qualities. He has found a very good natural habitat with us.”
Manchester United will welcome FC Zorya Luhansk of Ukraine to Old Trafford on Thursday, with Wayne Rooney a doubt for the clash with a back injury. Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Luke Shaw are both unavailable, while Mourinho has confirmed that Anthony Martial is in contention for a spot and Zlatan Ibrahimovic will play.