Monday 20 October 2014

Angel di Maria transfer to Manchester United spells trouble for Juan Mata

Mark Ogden

Published 26/08/2014 | 12:17

Juan Mata may find himself edged out of the Manchester United team as quickly as he is erased from the club’s record books following the signing of Angel di Maria.

With Di Maria ready to complete his British record £59.7m transfer from Real Madrid - a deal which smashes the club record £37.1m required to sign Mata from Chelsea in January -- the dilemma facing United manager Louis van Gaal is how to accommodate all of his attacking talents in one team.

And Mata, with an impressive seven goals in 17 appearances for United since his arrival from Stamford Bridge, is understood to be the most vulnerable of Old Trafford’s leading players.

With Van Gaal expected to revert to his favoured 4-3-3 formation and abandon United’s current 3-4-1-2 set-up once he is able to work with a fully fit and improved squad, Mata’s lack of pace is set to leave him battling for a place in the manager’s first-choice XI.

In the 3-4-1-2 system, Mata’s position behind the front two enables the Spaniard to play between the midfield and attacking lines, acting as a link between the midfielders and forwards.

 During United’s pre-season tour of the United States, Mata was regularly selected ahead of Shinji Kagawa by Van Gaal and the 26-year-old’s performances in the States hinted at a blossoming partnership with Rooney.

But the arrival of Di Maria changes everything for Mata who, despite his goal return at United, has yet to make a decisive contribution in a critical game for the team.

Mata’s seven goals have come against Aston Villa, Newcastle, Norwich City, Southampton and Sunderland, yet in pivotal fixtures against Liverpool, Manchester City and Everton last season, his contribution was minimal, with superior opponents nullifying his capabilities.

While Mata is key in a 4-3-1-2 formation, he becomes redundant in a 4-3-3 system which relies on pace in wide areas to be truly effective.

With Di Maria likely to play on the right of a front three, including Robin van Persie through the middle and Adnan Januzaj on the left, Wayne Rooney would most likely occupy an advanced midfield role, deployed just behind Van Persie.

Di Maria’s pace would enable him to replicate the devastating counter-attacks displayed by Arjen Robben for Holland during the World Cup, with Januzaj offering a similar outlet on the left.

Rooney, whose own lack of significant pace has blunted his edge as a centre-forward, would then edge out Mata due to his goalscoring pedigree, vision in the final third and ability to withstand the physical side of the English game.

Mata’s problem is that he becomes a square peg in a round hole in a 4-3-3 system, with his lack of pace slowing United down in a similar fashion to Dimitar Berbatov, whose own reign as the club’s record signing was ultimately a hugely disappointing one.

Ashley Young and Danny Welbeck are also likely to find their prospect affected by the signing of Di Maria, but it is Mata is who set to be the most high-profile victim.

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