Signed for £40 million from Chelsea back in January 2014, Juan Mata has been a loyal servant for Manchester United, going through his fair share of managers at Old Trafford and being a calming influence in a time of chaos.
Magical on the pitch and magnificent off it, Mata is a manager’s dream and his creative flair has lit up English football ever since he joined Chelsea from Valencia in 2011.
Injuries and competition for places has meant that Mata’s time on the field has diminished in recent years, but he remains a fundamental part of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s plans, despite his latest injury lay-off.
The Norwegian even told press last week: “Against West Brom, you’re thinking: ‘Do we have someone there to unlock the door?’
“If we had Juan [Mata] to create that pass. Because he has done well in the earlier part of the season.
“Now he’s back, he’s travelling with us to face Real Sociedad, he’s been bright in training. If we see Juan on the pitch I’m sure he’ll want to prove to his Spanish fans what a quality player he is.”
Solskjaer knows the value of Mata, and it could be argued that he’s been underrated for quite some time now.
Despite not being first choice for several seasons now, Mata has never dropped below eight goal contributions in a campaign at Man Utd, with 19 in 2015/16 his best, and his elegance compliments the speed of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial perfectly.
With over 250 appearances, 50 goals and 40 assists for the club, it’s fair to say that Mata has been an excellent addition to the club, all things considered.
His xG + xA per 90 tally has never dropped below 0.25 at Man Utd, and whilst in limited minutes this season – just 339 in the Premier League – his xA per 90 of 0.19 is only bettered by Bruno Fernandes and Luke Shaw in the current Man Utd squad. He’s most certainly still got it.
His acrobatic effort to stun Anfield will live long in the memory, and with Man Utd thin and seemingly one injury away from disaster in attack, Mata’s return to fitness for the final stretch of the season could be vital.
An excellent mentor for younger players, the twinkle-toed Mata could teach a thing or two to Amad Diallo and hand over the baton to the 18-year-old Ivorian.
Jose Mourinho may not have favoured Mata due to his lack of defensive nous and work-rate – 0.6 tackles and interceptions per 90 minutes in the league this season does indicate this – but the Spaniard’s ingenuity in the final third and ability to work in tight spaces can’t be overappreciated.
With his contract expiring this summer, and now declining aged 32, it seems Mata’s time at Old Trafford is coming to a close, and like his compatriots Santi Cazorla and David Silva before him, Mata deserves praise for the service he’s provided to the Premier League.