Why Jose Mourinho should give Juan Mata a second chance at Manchester United
Published 13/07/2016 | 10:51
You have to feel for Juan Mata. He probably just wants Jose Mourinho to stop following him around.
Forced out of Chelsea by a taskmaster of a manager who demanded a level of defensive work from his attackers that he believed Mata could not provide, the Spaniard tried to make a go of things as creator-in-chief at an ailing Manchester United side.
It was - and still is - a United side struggling in the post-Alex Ferguson era. Mourinho has now arrived to steady the ship and restore the club to its former glory, but it is widely believed that his arrival will spell the end at another club for Mata, particularly given the attacking signings that have been made already this summer and the continued pursuit of £100 million Paul Pogba.
But a player of Mata's unquestionable capability should not necessarily be cast aside just because it didn't work out last time.
He is proven at Premier League level and there is every reason to believe he can continue to shine at Old Trafford. It is hard to see Henrikh Mkhitaryan struggling in the way Shinji Kagawa did after following the same path from Borussia Dortmund, but given that we all know Mata is settled, content and playing well in England, why take the risk? Two remarkably clever and talented attackers might even bring the best out of one another.
There are few better players at picked out a final ball than Mata. Since he moved to Chelsea in the summer of 2011, only David Silva has racked up more assists or created more chances than him.
There is also an argument to say that he can up his game in order to meet Mourinho's demands. He may not be as quick, athletic or agile as the likes of Eden Hazard and Willian - Mourinho's preferred attacking midfielders at Chelsea - but he is arguably both more professional and diligent.
Prior to Mourinho's return to Stamford Bridge, Mata was making less than one tackle per 90 minutes played. Unsurprisingly, under the Portuguese's tutelage that rate almost doubled.
And no harm was done to his play-making: he laid on a chance for a team-mate at almost the exact same rate - more than three every 90 minutes - both before and after Mourino's arrival.
In fact, in the six months he spent under Mourinho, he created chances more frequently than any other Chelsea player.
Under David Moyes and then Louis van Gaal, Mata has had a lot of practice playing in teams that place great importance on retaining defensive shape whilst also maintaining his own individuality and creative spark.
He made more passes than every United player bar Daley Blind last season, played more key passes than anyone else at the club and also ranked third in the goal-scoring charts.
He might not be a typical Mourinho player but at Chelsea last season he ran out of ideas and it might well have been useful to have a different option available.
There is talk that Mata could be used as a makeweight in a deal to bring Pogba back to Manchester but it would be a real shame to see him ditched again on the incorrect view that he does not - and cannot - work under Jose Mourinho.