Impatience was starting to show amongst Manchester United fans after the Red Devils failed to pick up a win from their opening three games of the decade. However, spirits were lifted with a 4-0 demolition job of relegation bound Norwich.
The free-flowing attacking nature of United’s performance was almost unrecognisable from the previous three games in which Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side only managed to net once. Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial looked at their best and when that’s the case, United tend to win.
But one man who pulled all the strings in behind them is someone who is often overlooked by fans and even the manager.
The Mata affect
Juan Mata has yet to find form this season. Despite this, he showed exactly what he is capable of in the correct tactical setup. He is regularly left out of the starting XI because he doesn’t suit the counter-attacking style that Solskjaer prefers to operate with.
He may have lost his legs, but Mata’s class is still obvious to see. His game by numbers was impressive and two assists from pinpoint crosses gave fans a glimpse of what they’ve been missing without him in the side.
Juan Mata’s game by numbers vs. Norwich City:
100% long ball accuracy
100% tackles won
90% pass accuracy
35 final third passes
6 ball recoveries
5 switches of play
Rolling back the years. 🎩🎩🎩 pic.twitter.com/loNKPG4N0i
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) January 11, 2020
What can he offer?
United fans won’t get carried away. The win came against a struggling Norwich side who sit rock bottom of the Premier League and have conceded more than any other team.
But this is exactly the sort of game we have seen United struggle in this campaign. They have been impressive against the top sides who attack them as they are given the opportunity to play on the counter.
Teams who defend deep in numbers have caused United to slip up. The inability to break down these teams has been a cause for concern which has prompted cries out from fans for a creative midfielder to play the number 10 role.
Although this is a position that United do need to strengthen, it may not be possible to sign their desired target until the end of the season.
In which case, Solskjaer needs a short term solution and Mata could be that man. His intelligence and ability to operate between the opposition’s defence and midfield is a perfect fit for the games when teams come to defend.
He picks up the ball on the half-turn and threads balls through to the forwards running in behind. This is what we’ve seen the Spaniard do his whole career. With Andreas Pereira failing to have the desired impact and Jesse Lingard unable to find form, Mata could be a short term solution for the manager.
He is not going to be effective against the bigger sides when United need to play at pace. But he could be the man to unlock deep-lying defences in games where United are expected to dominate the ball.
He has yet to find any rhythm this season, with his role in the squad appearing to be a backup player. Nonetheless, the experienced playmaker has always had the class to pick a pass and has proven throughout his career that he has an eye for goal.
His performance against the Canaries will certainly put him in contention for the midweek cup tie against Wolves. And who knows, maybe with some consistent form Juan Mata can be the unexpected driving force behind United’s challenge for the top four.