After the euphoria surrounding Anthony Martial’s dazzling start to life at Manchester United, Juan Mata’s excellent run of form has quietly gone under the radar.
The Spaniard’s performances have been integral to United’s positive start to the season and the former Chelsea man is starting to reproduce the form that brought him back-to-back Player of the Year awards in his first two seasons at Stamford Bridge.
Only Leicester’s Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy have contributed more goals and assists than Mata’s six in the Premier League thus far – Mata’s red hot form has seen him score or assist in five of United’s last six premier league games.
Since being signed by David Moyes from Chelsea for £37.1million in January 2014, Mata has been involved in more United goals (29) than any of his team mates.
The Red Devils have endured a major upheaval during Louis van Gaal’s tenure, with a host of incomings and departures seeing the twenty times champions endure a difficult period of transition.
After yielding the axe on record signing Angel Di Maria many felt that Mata would be the next to suffer in Van Gaal’s ruthless approach.
The Dutchman made it evidently clear that he needed an injection of pace, and the additions of Martial and Memphis Depay have inserted some much needed pace and youthful exuberance to the side.
However instead of being sacrificed, Mata has adapted and flourished under Van Gaal’s philosophy and has become a key figure in the Dutchman’s new look United.
Mata has actually benefitted from the additions of Depay and most recently Martial – his intelligence and ability to conjure up moments of innovative magic has been aided by the duos willingness to run in behind and cause havoc for opposing defenders.
Comparatively, last season United’s forward line lacked cutting edge, Marouane Fellaini and Wayne Rooney lacked the explosive pace to frighten teams and as a result the team’s build-up play was toothless and consequently labelled as ‘boring’.
Jamie Redknapp has heaped praised on Mata’s recent form, saying on Sky Sports: “He is a class act, never complains, is such a gifted technical player and with pace around him he can really make United tick.
“He’s the thinking man’s footballer.”
His false right winger role allows him to drift inside and have an imaginative influence on games, and he was instrumental in the three times European champions comeback win against VfL Wolfsburg.
His composed penalty drew United level before an audacious flick allowed Chris Smalling to secure a crucial three points and kick start their European campaign.
Matt Le Tissier praised Mata for his match winning display against the German side: “I thought Juan Mata was excellent all night, he was probably the difference between the two teams.”
Nevertheless, Van Gaal was reluctant to praise the in-form Spaniard, stating that he has ‘seen Mata playing better than today’, with the Dutchman possibly referring to Mata’s instrumental display in the 2-1 victory against arch rivals Liverpool last season.
Mata is keen to kick on from a positive start to the season and is remaining level headed and focused.
“I’m feeling very comfortable in this start of the season,” he said.
“As soon as the week goes by I’m already looking forward to the next one, to keep enjoying myself and competing.”
Mata has created twice as many chances (14) as any of his team-mates thus far and since making the transition from Spanish football to the rigours of the English game back in 2011, the man who originally plied his trade with Valencia has conjured up 38 premier league assists.
Only fellow countryman David Silva (43) has provided more in that period.
Mata was reportedly ousted from Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea due to his defensive naivety and his lack of physical presence, and Van Gaal also demands his wingers buy into his whole hearted system.
Mata has averaged 1.4 tackles and 1.3 interceptions per game this season – in his frustrating final six months at Chelsea where he went from playing in the luxury number ten role to a makeshift winger, the Spaniard averaged only 1.1 tackles and 0.2 interceptions.
Mourinho may have clinched the title last season but his hasty decision to banish the mercurial Spaniard has been the Old Trafford faithful’s gain
Manchester United seem to have turned a corner and with Mata in full flow, United’s forward line is starting to look an attractive outfit once again.
United will need Mata to be at his influential best as they prepare for their toughest test this season against Arsene Wenger’s wounded Arsenal on Sunday.