Manchester United have hit form in recent weeks and claimed a 2-1 win over Bundesliga runners-up Wolfsburg in the Champions League on Wednesday night.
The Red Devils good run of form has coincidence with the return to form of Spanish midfielder maestro Juan Mata.
The former-Chelsea player has become increasingly influential for the Red Devils and that influence continued against Wolfsburg.
Mata opened the scoring for United against the German side, before producing a superb assist for Chris Smalling to score the winning goal. His all round play was also good, and he looked a threat to Wolfsburg throughout the game.
Mata’s influence on the United team has been rather underestimated this season. The former-Valencia star has a hand in six goals for United in the Premier League, and only Leicester’s in-form duo Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez have been involved in more goals in the top-flight.
In fact since his arrival in English football at Chelsea back in 2011, Mata has produced the second most assists in the Premier League, a very credible 38. Only compatriot and former-Valencia teammate David Silva has set-up more goals in the Premier League in that time with 43 assists.
Juan Mata has always had star quality, even if he does not like to shout about his ability from the rooftops, or big himself up. He goes about his business in an unassuming way, yet is highly effective.
In recent weeks new signing Anthony Martial has received all the plaudits, but the little Spaniard has been driving force behind United’s good campaign so far.
He arrived at United from Chelsea with big expectations, after Blues boss Jose Mourinho decided that he did not work hard enough for the team. Defending is not his main strength, but for what he gives the team he can be forgiven for not tracking back occasionally. He knows his strengths and sticks to them.
He is never going to be a tough tackling midfield player. He is a superb attacking midfielder with the intelligence to produce winning moments in games. He is not a lazy player, but is just far more effective at going forward, than contributing to the defensive side of his team’s play.
However, he has improved the defensive side of his game since his arrival at United. Former-boss Jose Mourinho doubted the Spaniard’s work-rate, and ability to win the ball off opponents, yet Mata has made more inceptions than two of Chelsea’s current wide players Eden Hazard and Willian this season.
His work-rate was also questioned by his former boss at Chelsea, yet in United’s 3-0 victory over Sunderland only central midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin covered more ground than the diminutive Spaniard.
Juan Mata has never had pace and was never going to be a winger who takes opponents on for pace. However, his main attribute is one that is vital for a top-class footballer, that attribute is football intelligence.
Every special footballer has it and some use it to great effect, as Mata does with killer passes and his ability to pick out teammates in dangerous positions. He makes United’s current team tick from whatever position he plays in.
Juan Mata was very consistency at Chelsea, which is why he won the Player of the Year award in consecutive seasons at Stamford Bridge. Last season he scored nine times in the Premier League and produced seven assists, he only needs one more assist to equal last season’s tally in the Premier League this season.
Juan Mata has bought into Louis van Gaal’s football philosophy at Manchester United, and has become a key cog in the veteran Dutchman’s system. The way that Van Gaal likes his teams to play means that Mata can play in-between the lines of the midfield and attack, which is where he does his best work.
Mata and his teammates face a test of their title credentials over their next few Premier League games, starting with a trip to north London to face Arsenal on Sunday.
If the Red Devils are to be successful this season, then Juan Mata will no doubt have been at the heart of that success, as his influence in the United team continues to grow.
Is Juan Mata Manchester United’s most influential player?