Juan Mata says there is one particular player Man United could be getting much more from
How ironic it is that many of the players expected to be among the first casualties of the Jose Mourinho era at Manchester United, have subsequently featured prominently during the Portuguese’s nascent tenure.
The evidence told us that the likes of Daley Blind, Marouane Fellaini and Marcos Rojo were not the type of players that Mourinho would favour.
However, thus far this term, the trio have seen plenty of game time, particularly Blind, who has excelled at both left and centre back.
Moreover, the gossamer Juan Mata had already been disposed of once before by the former Chelsea boss, early on during his second stint at Stamford Bridge.
Mata arrived in the January window of David Moyes’ disastrous campaign in charge and, in the interim, despite being regularly played out of position, the Spaniard has rarely let the club down.
With Everton said to be in interested in acquiring his services, it was assumed that Mata would not be a Manchester United player by the time the season got underway.
The purchase of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, in tandem with Mourinho’s insistence that Wayne Rooney would deployed either up front or in the no.10 role, served to make Mata’s situation seem all the more tenuous.
But the 28-year-old was retained and, thus far, he has started four of United’s six league games. Mourinho finally opted to omit Rooney from his starting XI for last weekend’s much-needed 4-1 win over the Leicester, allowing Mata to be stationed in his favoured no.10 role.
Mata shined against Leicester, netted a fine goal and generally directed United wonderfully in the final third. In the interim, Mourinho has claimed that it was not his decision to sell Mata to United, and that the playmaker has an important part to play going forward.
To that end, Mata has said that he and his midfield colleagues could be doing more to utilise the talents of Zlatan Ibrahimović, who scored his sixth competitive goal for the club in the midweek Europa league victory over Zorya at Old Trafford.
The Swede arrived in Manchester as a free agent following four-gilded seasons at PSG, and has immediately made his presence felt both on and off the pitch.
Yet, when selected alongside Rooney, with neither man in receipt of genuine acceleration, United could be quite laborious in the final third. That both Ibrahimović and the club captain tend to drop into deeper positions to exert their influence, further served to upset the side’s balance.
On that topic, Mata has said that when the former Barcelona striker does drop off, it was incumbent on others to act accordingly.
“We know that when Zlatan is playing up front, he comes to create great assists and great passes,” he said to MUTV.
We have to run behind him because we need depth in the game. We tried to do that in the first and second half (against Zorya).
"He gives a lot as a striker and he gives a lot when he comes to play as a midfielder as well. We have to take advantage of that.”
The 34-year-old’s match-winner against the Ukrainian outfit was a feat of pure opportunism. As Wayne Rooney skewered a shot into the turf, it took a wayward trajectory, but Ibrahimović reacted quickest to head home.
At 12pm today, United take on a winless Stoke side currently languishing at the bottom of the table, having lost four of their six games and drawn the other two.
A victory would put United on 16 points and send them back into the Champions League reckoning going into the second international break of the season, immediately after which they go to Anfield to take on the high-flying Liverpool.
Mourinho has said the Potters’ current standing is not reflective of their quality.
"It can happen," the manager said of Stoke's start.
"It can happen, but I am sure that in the end of May they will be in the Stoke area in the table. They will be there so I play against a good manager and good players. That's the important thing for me.
"The table I think is just a moment, just a period and they will go over it for sure."