Making sense of the Juan Mata rumour

Angel Martinez

United look set to make a swoop for Chelsea midfielder Juan Mata, though how and where would the Spaniard fit at Old Trafford?

So the latest big transfer rumour has seen Manchester United linked with a swoop for Juan Mata, with the Daily Telegraph reporting that a bid of £37 million was being prepared for Chelsea's Spanish playmaker. Despite United's quick denial -- and perhaps partly because of it -- there certainly seems to be something to the link.

Mata surely wouldn't be David Moyes' ideal January target, with United in pretty desperate need of central midfield all-rounders more than intricate attacking players. Signing the Spaniard would just serve to strengthen United's strongest position, still leaving gaping zones behind.

The price tag is pretty hefty for a luxury buy.

Then again, there's no doubting he's an excellent player. Though José Mourinho hasn't found a way to accommodate him at Chelsea, on form he's already proven himself to be one of the best in the Premier League. He would immediately become one of United's key players, and at the moment, can we really afford to turn down such quality? Mata's 18 goals and 33 assists in the last couple of seasons would suggest not.

The major concern is where he'd fit in at United under Moyes. If we're going to keep Wayne Rooney, then signing Mata makes little sense. If this means Rooney's heading off, then Mata would be an excellent replacement for the central attacking midfield role. It has become clear that this is Mata's best position, drifting into any space the opposition leave in front of their defence.

In an interview with the Guardian back in July, Mourinho said:

"I've always liked a right-sided player to be left-footed. I started with Robben and Duff, then [Goran] Pandev at Inter, and Di María and Özil. Many clubs do it. It's more than a tendency.

"I like wingers coming in on the inside for the penetrative movement, for the pass, for the shot. And Juan is the only player we have to do that on the right."

It's possible that Mata would end up in a similar position at Old Trafford until the summer, especially with Antonio Valencia having been in such poor form for ages now. But as Mata's consistent benching at Stamford Bridge has shown, Mourinho hasn't believed him to be strong enough out on the flank. Lacking the explosiveness of a player like Robben, it definitely wouldn't be the best way to exploit his strengths.

Technically he's a better player than Rooney, and his playing through the middle would add a central creativity which United have been crying out for since Moyes took charge. Those decrying the new manager's supposed obsession with wing play seem to ignore that fact that United are quite badly lacking in creativity behind the striker. Shinji Kagawa has underwhelmed, it's clearly not where Danny Welbeck's strengths lie, and Adnan Januzaj has most impressed out wide.

It might not be top priority, but there is still a hole to be filled.

What's more, though Wayne Rooney has shown some excellent form this season, that has become an increasingly rare occurrence over recent seasons. Throw his couple of transfer requests into the mix, and United shouldn't be squeamish about seeing him leave. What we'd lose in brute attacking force we'd make up with in imagination -- assuming Mata arrives in his place.

Clearly, signing Mata alone wouldn't be enough to make up for United's major deficiencies. If, for the same money, we could sign Arturo Vidal or Paul Pogba, then we're barking up the wrong tree. Unfortunately we can't, and it's looking increasingly likely the search for the long-awaited central midfielder will be put on hold until the summer.

In the meantime, Mata would add a sprinkling of quality and ingenuity to a team that could do with help behind the striker. I wouldn't say no.

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