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When Jose Mourinho was appointed the manager of Manchester United in 2016, it was thought that playmaker Juan Mata would leave the club, along with few other players, given the pair’s history when they were together at Chelsea.
Mourinho sold Mata to United during his second spell at Stamford Bridge in 2014, citing the fact that he didn’t believe the Spaniard fitted his style of play, preferring the industry of Ramires and Oscar instead. But fast forward to November 2017, where the likes of Morgan Schneiderlin, Memphis Depay and Bastian Schweinsteiger left the club, Mata is still a United player and without any qualms, he has been able to gain the trust of Mourinho.
While Mata is in the final year of his contract, Real Madrid are reportedly eager to bring the player to where it all started for him. According to several news outlets, the 12-time European champions are interested in bringing back the playmaker to spark fresh impetus into their faltering season.
United started the season brightly, before a draw at Liverpool in October and defeats to Huddersfield and Chelsea recently have somewhat dismantled their campaign. Mourinho’s team, after the 1-0 defeat to Chelsea on Sunday, are 2nd in the table and trail league leaders Manchester City by 8 points.
Leagues are not won in November but a further blip from United would grant the inevitable to City, who are blowing teams away, week in and week out. However, Mourinho is expected to have the likes of Paul Pogba, Marcos Rojo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic back from injury in the months of November and December.
Speaking about Mata, he was a regular last season when United won the League Cup and the Europa League, chipping in with important goals and assists. While the 29-year-old may not be the quickest or a physically imposing figure, his intelligence in splitting defences apart has been a big asset to the Red Devils. Also, since arriving at Old Trafford, Mata has wasted no time in establishing himself as a fan favourite.
Nevertheless, he has not been as effective this season and continues to play on the wings rather than his preferred No.10 position. The attacking midfielder’s role has been given to Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who, after a blistering start to this season – chipping in with 5 assists in first 3 games, has faded like anything. He endured a forgettable game against Chelsea.
On the other hand, Mata was surprisingly left out of Mourinho’s 18-man squad for the defeat to Chelsea on Sunday, although he travelled with the team to London. He was also an unused substitute in United’s 1-0 win over Tottenham on October 28. Significantly, the Spaniard has been substituted in each of his 11 starts this season and was humiliatingly substituted at half-time against Huddersfield, after he made a mistake that led to one of the Terriers’ two goals.
Madrid are keeping an eye on the developments as they prepare to make their move for Mata, who turns 30 in April. Mourinho might be willing to cash in on him than let the attacker leave for free in the summer. However, do Madrid really need Mata?
Having begun his career in the Real Madrid academy, Mata spent four years at Valencia before joining Chelsea in 2011. He surely has the experience of Spanish football but he may be reluctant to move on from United where he has become a firm favourite among the fans.
There are also big clouds of doubt whether Mata would get regular football at the Bernabeu, given Madrid’s class of attackers in his area of the pitch. Zidane needs to address some of their problems but that is not in Mata’s position, where the club is stacked with a lot of talented players.
The 21-year-old Marco Asensio has bulldozed his way into the first-team with some eye-catching displays this season, while Isco continues to ooze class. Madrid, who are 8 points adrift of traditional rivals Barcelona, also have Lucas Vazquez and Gareth Bale capable of playing behind the striker.
What they exactly need is a young, proven goal-scorer who can provide competition and support to Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema- the duo has only one goal each in the league this season.
This simply explains Mata’s creativity won’t be of much use at Madrid as they are clearly lacking a prolific goal-scorer. In Isco, Asensio, Bale and Luka Modric, the Los Blancos have a plethora of playmakers and Mata won’t get many chances to make a mark.
In all fairness, Mata should stay at United and up his game further. He has unfinished business at Old Trafford.