When Jose Mourinho arrived at Manchester United last summer, all expectations were that Juan Mata would be sold, however, this wasn’t the case and he has become one of United’s key players this season.
Jose Mourinho sold Mata to United in January 2014, a move that baffled many as he’d been Chelsea’s player of the year in the two previous seasons. Mata quickly cemented himself as a fan favourite at Old Trafford, being one of the only shining lights in both David Moyes’ and Louis Van Gaal’s reigns as manager. However, Sky Sports reported that Mata and Daley Blind were going to be the first high-profile casualties when Mourinho was appointed the manager. This hasn’t been the case as the duo are now integral parts of the squad, who’s versatility has allowed them to receive more game time, as Mata has been played on the wing and behind the striker, whilst Blind has found game time at centre back and left back
Although Mata may have become a more rotational player in recent weeks he has still been a key piece in Mourinho’s puzzle. He has managed to play 15 Premier League games so far this season, racking up 959 minutes on the pitch. Which is very impressive considering that he faces competition from Henrik Mkhitaryan, Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Wayne Rooney for a place in the starting XI.
Mata has more than warranted his place in the team this season, being one of United’s most attacking players, creating 24 chances for his team-mates, registering two assists. He has also managed to find the back of the net on four occasions in the league this season. His contributions at the top end of the field has been matched by his tactical discipline, as Mourinho has been happy to use Mata on the wings due to his willingness to track back and help the full backs. Mata’s ball retention has also been exceptional this season, with his pass completion rate being 91%.
Mata is one of the most senior players at the club now and is rather surprisingly one of the longest serving first team players still remaining in the squad. Mourinho made a public show of trust to Mata; he made him captain of the side when United clashed with Burnley on 29th October 2016. Rooney and Michael Carrick were not in the side, so Mourinho had to choose a new leader for that game, but Mourinho chose Mata, a player who he once sold. This is no mean feat as Mourinho chose him as captain ahead of the likes of David De Gea, Paul Pogba, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Mata has become the perfect example of a player turning his fortunes around earning the trust of a manager who once doubted them. He has shown fight and desire, and as a result, he has become central to Mourinho’s plans. More players at the club look up to Mata, who has fought for his place, instead of handing in a transfer request when the going gets rough, like Memphis and Morgan Schneiderlin did.