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Does Juan Mata still have a place at Manchester United?

The popular Spaniard is on an expiring contract, and increasingly on the fringes

Manchester United v Leicester City - Premier League Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

Week 6 of the domestic campaign has concluded and it has been quite the contentious start to Manchester United’s title hopes, After a convincing Champions League win against the Young Boys this week, the Red Devils were already in midseason form against Wolverhampton on Saturday.

Much of the conversation around the this current squad has centered around Paul Pogba’s managerial struggles, Anthony Martial’s future with the team, and if Jose Mourinho can lead his men to their first Premier League title in seven years.

The starting XI has undoubtedly changed with each game, pending injury struggles or match bans. As players are replaced one person continues to warm the bench: Juan Mata.

The Spaniard was once United’s record transfer five years ago, and a definite starter in the David Moyes and Louis van Gaal days. During the José Mourinho tenure, however, it appears the former Chelsea ace has undergone a roller coaster experience on the offense. These days, when fans hear of Juan Mata, it’s through a blog post on United’s official site or a generous charitable action.

His international career has consequently deteriorated in the process, too. After playing a pivotal role in Spain’s 2010 World Cup victory their 2012 European Championship triumph, Mata has not made an appearance for his country since 2016.

A two-time player of the year at Chelsea, Mata led the Blues to a Champions League and Europa League championship in successive years. In his final season at Stamford Bridge, he found the back of the net 12 times and grabbed 12 assists, effectively earning a spot on PFA’s team of the year. His exit from Chelsea is linked to a dispute between him and then-manager Mourinho, with David Moyes eventually nabbing him for £37.1 million.

Compared to most of Mourinho’s starters, Mata is generally unproblematic. The 30 year-old is rarely seen in the news mouthing troubling opinions about his rank as a starter. In fact, you’ll find Mata normally serving as the unofficial cheerleader of the Red Devils, often posting enthusiastic posts for the fans. Therefore, one couldn’t imagine that behind the scenes, Mata would be pressuring Mourinho and company to give him minutes on the pitch.

Fans were able to see Mata in action again this weekend when United hosted Wolverhampton at Old Trafford. The midfielder came on for Alexis Sánchez in the 63rd minute. He offered a little more creativity than the Chilean, but not much as United already looked gassed and satisfied with the impending draw. It yet another disappointing Saturday for the Red Devils, as the 1-1 result places them already eight points behind league leaders Liverpool. The quality of play was abysmal, and the effort put forth by Mourinho’s men was mediocre. Just when it appears the glory days Manchester United may be back, in comes another frustrating performance to suppress those thoughts.

Mata is in the final year of his contract at Old Trafford, and earlier reports hinted that a return to his home country might be the move he eventually makes. While Tottenham Hotspur had placed a bid for the number 8 during the recent summer transfer window, United rejected those advances. After spending four years with La Liga club Valencia, it appears his former side is intent on bringing him back. The only stipulation? Mata becomes a free transfer.

Manchester United have benefitted from the addition of Juan Mata over the years, but a proper goodbye for the fan favorite is inevitable. As the club looks to revert back to the quality that made them the most successful side in England, it may be time to offload the out of form midfielder to a club where his playing time is not compromised, and his impact is greater.