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Manchester United 2018-19 Player Reviews: Juan Mata

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Mata is a lovely man, but as a player he finds himself increasingly out of place

Juventus v Manchester United - UEFA Champions League Group H Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images

It’s difficult to describe Juan Mata’s season, or even his Man United career. In a period of chaos, inconsistency, and uncertainty in the history of the club, Juan Mata has been a nearly constant spark for fans. He’s a classy creator in midfield with an eye for goal, humanitarian, set-piece specialist, and just an all around good person. His quality helped United along to achieving their only silverware post-SAF, over the last 2 years we’ve seen a pretty noticeable drop in quality.

His legs aren’t what they used to be, and it seems to have hindered him both on the pitch and in trying to get in the team at all. The once reliably speedy Spaniard has caught the criticism from fans for losing a step, but Mata was still able to show his quality in pretty big moments. It’s those flashes that make his status at United interesting this summer. He’ll be out of contract soon, but with a supposed squad overhaul to come, one has to wonder whether he’ll be offered a new one, and at the same wages he’s currently on.

Mata managed to come through during some pretty tough times this past season. His free kicks against Newcastle and Juventus kick-started crucial comeback wins, and his creativity in midfield turned on again under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer before going down with an injury against Liverpool. When he came back he scored a crucial goal against Chelsea in a make or break match, only to once again fade as the team collapsed after David De Gea’s disastrous fumble.

He isn’t as productive as he has been in the past, but Mata could still be impactful as a squad player. His role at the top of a diamond midfield was one of Solskjaer’s more effective tactical adjustments this season, and his leadership and experience could make him valuable for a team that seems to be moving towards youth and potential. CD

Manchester United v Chelsea FC - Premier League Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Before you consider Juan Mata and his 2018-2019; you must first decide to separate the man and the footballer. It’s something you rarely say about professional footballers, but the world over has decided that Juan Mata is a truly special human being. A nice, respectful man who has represented both his clubs and country with grace and dignity while also setting up a common-sense charitable organisation that attempts to somewhat alleviate the gap between the world’s richest and poorest people.

Juan Mata is a difference maker in life and a man to be cherished.

Despite being an outstanding talent, Mata has never courted a move away from Manchester United, never grumbled at never having had an automatic starting berth and has always given 100% for the club. In an era of Jesse Lingards and Paul Pogbas, Juan Mata is the man that you would love your son to grow up and emulate.

Having said all that; how was his season?

It has always been said that Mata was a clutch type player, a scorer of important goals and this season proved no different. Look at his goals videos on YouTube; few players can claim to have scored against as many of the big teams as Mata. He doesn’t clock up three goals against Stoke and none against Liverpool. He has scored against all of the big sides. This season he dug United out of a hole against Juventus and Newcastle, and scored the opener against Chelsea at Old Trafford.

Surprisingly, despite prior expectations, Mata would feature far more heavily for José Mourinho than he did under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, with Solskjaer more likely to opt for Lingard or Martial rather than the Spaniard.

Solskjaer arrived and began talking up speedy, attacking football and while Juan Mata is a lot of things, ‘speedy’ is not one of them. A lack of pace has always been the dividing line in world football between Juan Mata and the truly elite playmakers such as Hazard, Silva or De Bruyne. It would look as though Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would prefer an approach that encourages his teams to play on the front foot more than Juan Mata could provide.

Did Juan Mata’s season warrant a contract extension? The Spaniard is now 31, and while lacking that yard of pace which separates him from the world’s elite, he is still an excellent footballer, a brilliant squad player and somebody who can always be depended upon to give his best for the cause. It would be a shame to see Mata leave Manchester, and as the summer now kicks into gear, it is beginning to look more likely that he will stick around.

Would anyone be upset with that? I don’t think so. AB