Juan Mata Should Stay at Manchester United

A mainstay of the Premier League and a player with proven abilities, Mata finds himself in an intriguing situation at Manchester United.

With the additions of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Jose Mourinho's Manchester United looks like a new beast.

After a few years of uncharacteristic finishes in the Premier League, United find themselves with a manager with an exceptional track record in England as well as an influx of top talent that could reinvigorate the Red Devils for a proper title chase.

But with the eye-catching additions comes the departures, and United will do well to clear out several members of a squad that have either overstayed their welcome or just don't match up to what is expected at Old Trafford. This is where Juan Mata finds himself, on the precarious line of exiting and staying, and ever-present transfer rumors don't help.

The 28-year-old Spaniard will have spent three years in Manchester this winter, just eclipsing the time the overall time spent at Chelsea. Upon arrival, Mata was banished to the right-wing and the bench by Jose Mourinho upon his return to West London. That winter, Mata was sold for a cool £37.1 million to the Red Devils. It would appear that another sale is plausible, but Mourinho does find himself in a much different situation.

In 2013, Mourinho had a number of promising talents in attacking midfield positions, especially a blossoming Oscar. At United, he has his needs filled, but the talent level and depth of EPL experience is far less in the final third. Anthony Martial, Memphis Depay, and Jesse Lingard complement the aforementioned recruits, along with the obviously experienced, somewhat declining Wayne Rooney.

And when you look at's EPL metrics, there are plenty of areas where Mata showed he's still very talented, such as creating the most chances for the Red Devils last season.

PlayerGoalsAssistsChances CreatedPass AccuracyAppearances
Juan Mata655389%34(4)
Wayne Rooney864283%27(1)
Jesse Lingard411485%19(6)

And while Rooney's natural position is a number 10 and there are a few players who can play the position, Mata is still the best option otherwise. It's easy to forget, but Mata has always found his best game in the center of the pitch, and we haven't seen him take over that role predominantly since his last year at Chelsea.

At Stamford Bridge, his time as a number 10 resulted in stats we still haven't seen since from the short attacker. He totaled 25 assists in the league with 18 goals thrown as well, creating a goal every 123 minutes.

When you compare that to 2.5 seasons he's primarily spent on the wing at United, combined with the lack of a top striker or supporting talent, it's apparent that Mata's abilities have been done a disservice.

TeamGoalsAssistsMin. per GoalPossession%
Manchester United2213186.289.2

Mata has kept better possession on the wing due to the lack of touches he receives compared to time in the center, and that does help his passing accuracy as well. What Mata offers rather than Rooney is sustained possession and better precision in dribbling and passing, although it's unmistakable that Rooney is a lethal finisher and can score a wide variety of goals.

However, Mata has created 35 goals over 2.5 seasons in a position other than his preference, and it's reasonable to think that number would rise back up to his season in blue, or at least somewhere close.

With the lack of outright talent at the central attacking position, it may be time for Mourinho to see if he can use Mata's exceptional vision and touch properly this time around. With the likely combination of Ibrahimovic, Martial, and Mkhitaryan finishing off his passes, it seems likely that a peaking Mata deserves a chance at the number 10 starting job over Rooney, whose fitness and performances have undoubtedly regressed in the past few years.

It's a tough situation with a talisman like Rooney and the amount of talent United possesses, but Mata in his natural position with a fantastic supporting cast could translate to a reappearance of the Spaniard we saw at Chelsea, the one who led the Premier League in assists and made the PFA Team of the Year in 2012-13.