Don’t pull that face. We have never used the Mata pun before and we don’t intend to again….
But he is a player who has drawn polemic responses from Manchester United fans since he joined the club in January 2014.
He is technically proficient and composed on the ball. But he’s not explosive or athletic enough to consistently dominate games. He’s not the £37m game changer that Manchester United hoped for when they signed him. He’s a poor man’s David Silva.
Mata started brightly against Wolfsburg and hit a beautiful pass to put Anthony Martial in for the opening goal.
But, after that, he fizzled out and was anonymous by half-time. The only thing that we remember him doing in the second half was misplacing a 5 yard pass which trickled agonisingly out of play.
This should have been the night when the Spaniard took the game by the scruff of the neck in his favorite number 10 role. Lord knows that through ball to Martial was well and truly on with Wolfsburg’s sluggish centre backs. But Mata couldn’t find the Frenchman again after the 10th minute. A top creator – a Silva or a Scholes – would have simply pinged it through or over the top for the deadly Anthony Martial time and again. All night long. Relentlessly.
And let’s not forget that Mata wasn’t exactly up against elite opposition. Wolfsburg are a decent, if fairly pedestrian team, but they were there for the taking – a top side would have carved them open. But, unfortunately, Manchester United are no longer a top side.
Mata is phyisically quite meek and tends to slow the game down rather than speeding it up. He will regularly take the safe route rather than risk a quick forward pass. You could argue that the Manchester United boss is to blame for that. But, in fairness to Van Gaal and his tactics, Mata wasn’t hitting that many early through balls under David Moyes either.
We don’t doubt that Mata is a good player. But Manchester United didn’t dominate for two decades with good players. They need serial winners – explosive athletes in the side if they are going to scale the peaks of domestic and European football once more.