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Another game, another big goal from the boots of Juan Mata. The number of crucial strikes the Spaniard has scored under Jose Mourinho this season is rising.
Mata was once again the match-winner for Manchester United against Russian side FC Rostov on Thursday night in the UEFA Europa League, scoring the only goal of the game, to send the Red Devils through to the quarterfinals of the competition.
Manchester United are watching their little Spaniard flourish, with 10 goals to his name this term. Notably, seven of those have been the team’s openers in matches. He already looks like ending the campaign with his best haul in four years. This comes nine months after the naysayers put him on the exit stage once the new manager arrived.
Not since the 2012-13 season, where he was the Player of the Season for Chelsea, has Mata been this productive for a team. It is well-known what ensued between the Spanish international and Jose Mourinho when the Portuguese returned for a second stint at Stamford Bridge in 2013-14.
When he took over at Old Trafford in the summer of 2016, it was widely tipped that Mata will be the first man through the exit doors for Manchester United. But to everyone’s surprise, the 28-year old has been one of the most consistent performers under Jose this season and has become an integral part of the United squad.
There is a constant battle within himself, to keep getting better, to keep proving the naysayers wrong and Mata has been doing that in style this season for United. The fact that he has created 50 clear-cut chances in the Premier League and the Europa League indicates the amount of influence he has had in the final third for United. The fact that he has only three assists, despite creating so many chances, should be blamed on the profligacy of the rest of the attackers.
And all his attacking prowess was on display at Old Trafford on Thursday. On the night when United enjoyed a lion’s share of possession but struggled to get ahead, Mata chipped in with the all-important goal in the 70th minute, to finish a move that he himself started after winning the ball at the halfway mark.
The timing of the goal was ever-so crucial as the visitors were on the ascent in the second-half and were looking good to cause an upset at the Theatre of Dreams. Mata’s intelligent run followed with a thumping finish from close range appeared to knock the wind out of their sails.
On the night, Mata created two goal-scoring opportunities for United, both from brilliant through-balls from deep in the pitch. He attempted three take-ons against the Russians and came up trumps on all the three occasions. Out of the 51 passes he attempted in the game, he found his intended target with an impressive 84% success-rate and was the man who kept it ticking for United with his smart movement and intelligent passing.
United have struggled when Mata has not started. In fact, six of their seven defeats this season have come when he has been on the bench or absent from the squad. Two of those did come at Chelsea and one against Manchester City. United haven’t had it easy by any stretch of imagination this season and whenever they have needed someone to step up, the little man, Mata, has stood up tall.
All Stats Were Taken From Squawka.com