Manchester United’s last season was one of their worst goal scoring seasons, 62 being the aggregate total. The reason, as to why could United not score as many goals as they are used to, has been analyzed umpteenth times. Some blame it on the poor chance creations, while some blame it on the finishing quality of the strikers that they had. Mind you, United had Radamel Falcao, Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney for primary strikers and any United fan could have taken those three at the start of the season. For some reason it did not turn out how it was supposed to be.
Towards the end of the season, United did look like getting their act together where they accumulated crucial three points against Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City and Liverpool. It looked like the players for the first time knew how they were supposed to play under Louis van Gaal. One of the crucial contributor to this was Juan Mata. The brace against Liverpool at Anfield will always be remembered by the fans. The Spaniard will be looking to continue his season end form in to this season while helping United put up a greater number of goals as compared to the one gone by. But being a midfielder, the goal scoring opportunities that come his way are scarce than what a striker would get. In spite of which, Mata accumulated ten strikes passed the keeper in the net. He is reportedly, the first midfielder to amass double-digit goals in a season after the legendary Paul Scholes.
But the credit of Mata’s attacking outlook goes to his childhood when he used to play as a striker, always. He mentioned this fact in an interview as reported in the Manchester Evening News
“I always try to score. I have always done that. I used to play as a striker when I was a kid and every team I played for I had a good goals record and it is the same at United too.”
This is not the first time that the former Chelsea player was amongst the goals. He further on went to add:
“This season I will aim again to score a good number and to help the team with assists and goals. I had a 20 goal season at Chelsea and 14 another with Valencia as well so I have always been lucky enough to score a good number for a midfielder.”
In spite of the player attributing luck, the credit of his success, it has largely been the talent and footballing intelligence of the player that has helped him to succeed at such a level. The movement and creativity that Mata is capable of generating is something that very few are blessed with. That was one of the reasons why it came as a shock when Jose Mourinho decided on offloading him from Chelsea.
With the current deficit of strikers at United, Van Gaal would be expecting both Mata and Memphis Depay to contribute to the goal scoring cause. But with the incoming of new signings, the position that Mata was used to playing in, has been altered and might stay the same for rest of the season. Instead of playing in a number ten or false nine position, Van Gaal has now deployed Mata on the right flank. On the signing of Depay, it was thought that, being so successful on the flanks, Depay would be the one on the right-wing but the Dutchman pulled out one from his hat and got Mata out wide.
Mata, has however responded exceptionally well to this and has already shown that the idea might actually work. He opined about it saying
“I used to play on the right and I used to play as a number ten and on the left. Right now I am very comfortable to be playing on the right to be fair. I try to cut inside with either Antonio (Valencia) or Matteo (Darmian) overlapping me and I feel very comfortable there, trying to link with the number ten and the striker.”
The current playing style, that Van Gaal has implemented, utilizes the overlaps and link ups between the full backs and the wingers to a large extent. Mata has been working with Matteo Darmian in the pre-season matches and has looked efficient while doing so. He sometimes also slips inside and plays centrally, assuming the role of a false winger. With him covering so much of ground with his movement, Van Gaal would feel that he has quite a few goals, potentially hidden there. With not shying away, from the competition that has arisen due to the crowded midfield, the World Cup winning midfielder does feel that, United, now have better balance in the team due to the new signings this summer.
However, Van Gaal also feels, even if Mata brings the team, goals and assists, the current United team lacks a player who can be creative and pacy upfront. It remains to be seen if Mata can make Van Gaal eat his own words, but for now it seems that the onus is on Mata to get amongst the goals and help United score a lot more than what they did last season.