Comment: Manchester United must sacrifice Rooney or Van Persie to play record signing Mata where it counts

Manchester United’s record signing Juan Mata looks to have found his form again.

The Spaniard’s starring role in United’s 4-0 demolition of Newcastle on Saturday showed just why Moyes was prepared to shell out a club record fee of £37million to bring Mata to Old Trafford from Chelsea.

Mata made everything tick with his movement and guile in between the lines, playing in the central position he craves.

He looks like the player United so desperately need and his work with Javier Hernandez and Shinji Kagawa on Saturday was a joy to behold.

There is just one problem. Mata’s best form has arrived when Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney are missing through injury.

How United get all three players on the same pitch at the same time without playing one out of position is the biggest question facing Moyes and his coaching team.

Since his January arrival and the fanfare of Mata the saviour, Moyes has consistently played the diminutive Spaniard out of position, dumping him out on the right wing to deploy Rooney and Van Persie in central areas.

It hasn’t worked at all, with Mata’s natural inclination to drift inside leaving United narrow and the midfield congested – damaging their attacking play.

At Chelsea, when he played in the pre-Mourinho part two seasons, Mata was the central figurehead of everything good about their attack.

Last season Mata contributed 12 goals and 12 assists in the league from that central attacking midfield position.

His influence in that role for both club and country is there for all to see and now, he is starting to show that influence with United.

The opportunity for Mata to play in the role behind the striker has come about because of injury to Van Persie.

Against West Ham, Mata played behind Rooney and had his best game in a United shirt as they ran out 2-0 winners.

Last weekend at home to Aston Villa, Mata scored his first United goal and was the key attacking player for Moyes, again in behind Rooney.

Against Newcastle, Rooney was also absent, giving Moyes the opportunity to pair Mata with Hernandez, and the Spaniard was outstanding.

Inevitably, Van Persie and Rooney will soon return to fitness and be available at the same time.

That will be when Moyes has his key decision to make and that decision has to be to give Mata the freedom to play the role behind the striker that he craves and excels in.

If that means sitting either Van Persie, Rooney or both on the bench then so be it.

There is no way Moyes can return to playing all three if that means positioning Mata out on the wing, for that simply does not work.

Mata has the creative instincts and the imagination that United have been missing for so long, providing the class and the spark to ignite the attacking talents of the Premier League champions.

As good as Van Persie and Rooney are, and they are outstanding players, they cannot both play if that means Mata is moved to the wing.

The summer will be pivotal for United, as they are expected to spend heavily to re-energise this squad which has put up such a tame defence of their 20th league title.

It could prove to be that Van Persie, who won United that title almost single-handedly, is moved out of the club if he cannot find a role in the new Mata-centric United.

While losing a player of the quality of Van Persie seems unthinkable, if it for the greater good of the team it is a decision Moyes must not be frightened of making.

His predecessor Alex Ferguson was never scared of making such decisions, moving on the likes of United great Ruud van Nistelrooy when he thought he had lost a yard.

If there is no way of combining Rooney and Van Persie combining with Mata, then must go allowing the ex-Chelsea man to be the central figure.

Van Persie’s performances, and his perceived lack of effort, this season make him the most likely to depart.

If that is the case, a combination of Mata and Rooney looks a frightening proposition for Premier League defences.

However Moyes chooses to proceed, the last three league games have shown that Mata needs to be the man to build around – whoever that means misses out.

Main image courtesy of Jason Cairnduff/Action Images, with thanks.

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