A statistical analysis on where Moyes should play Juan Mata

Mata scored two and set up one for Manchester United at the weekend - should he be employed centrally from now on, and what does this mean for Rooney?

On Saturday Juan Mata operated in his favoured position behind the striker as Manchester United smashed Newcastle United 4-0.

And for the first time since his move from Chelsea, Mata looked every inch the world class player we know he is.

Without Wayne Rooney or Robin van Persie in the side, he was very much the big name and crown jewel of United's attacking play.

A hallmark of Rooney's play is that he drops deep to receive possession, often orchestrating play even when he is the lone centre forward. This often means he is dropping into the position of anyone that is playing the number 10 role, and though of course he is very good at it, it means that the supporting forward has to adjust to what Rooney does, given that the England man does it fairly regularly.

Now nobody wants to inhibit Rooney's enthusiasm for affecting the game, and given the huge contract he signed recently, it is fair to say he remains a significant part of United's long term future, and the way they will play football.

But playing Rooney AS WELL as another forward up top means Mata is either shunted out to the wing, or playing second fiddle to Rooney behind that striker.

With Rooney missing against Newcastle, Mata was playing his number 10 role as the main man for United. He was the high profile individual that made the team tick, and given that he was operating from the position he sought to influence from, the entire midfield ticked along nicely.

In Shinji Kagawa and Adnan Januzaj, Moyes again employed no natural wingers, but considering the damage all three of his attacking midfielders did, it wasn't a problem. What Moyes has to decide on now is whether he wants to use a system with no wide men, given that he has the personnel for it, or continue using wingers, which often means midfielders or forwards, such as Mata, being played out of position.

Below we look at three of United's recent games in an effort to understand Mata's influence from different positions; Saturday's win, the 3-0 loss to Liverpool, and similar to the game at St James' Park, a 3-0 away win at West Brom. 

Attacking midfield: Manchester United's match with Newcastle, a 4 - 0 win

NameAccurate PassBig Chance CreatedTotal Scoring AttWas FouledGoal AssistTouchesGoals
Juan Mata 54 1 2 2 1 89 2

From his attacking midfield position, Mata had plenty of influence on the game. With a healthy amount of accurate passes, and crucially, creating several chances - scoring two himself and assisting on another. The touches he made were the highest of the three games, and the fact he used them so well show his value in the position.

Right wing: Manchester United's match with Liverpool, a 3 - 0 loss 

NameAccurate PassBig Chance CreatedTotal Scoring AttWas FouledGoal AssistTouchesGoals
Juan Mata 49 0 1 3 0 73 0

Naturally, in the game with Liverpool, his influence was dulled not just by the fact that he was playing right wing but also because United's opponents were so excellent. It's no surprise to see less accurate passes and less touches, but the fact he was fouled 3 times means that he was a danger man, and could have influenced proceedings more from a central position.

Right wing: Manchester United's match with West Brom, a 3 - 0 win

NameAccurate PassBig Chance CreatedTotal Scoring AttWas FouledGoal AssistTouchesGoals
Juan Mata 56 0 1 1 0 84 0

Playing out wide against West Brom, Mata was on the ball plenty of times, with 84 touches and 56 accurate passes, yet despite the 3-0 win, he failed to create any scoring opportunities and also had just the one effort on goal. 


Mata is a good enough player to receive possession and get involved in play from the wing, but he lacks the speed to get beyond his fullback and influence the game to the extent he does from his attacking midfield role.

Looking at the best possible United side, Rooney upfront and Mata behind should be able to function effectively in time. Mata may have to learn to drift forward when Rooney comes into his position, and Rooney may have to pick and choose the ideal times to drop deep.

If Rooney remains in the number 10 role with Mata playing somewhat of a second fiddle, Moyes and United will continue to see the Spaniard struggling to make an impact, rather than the kind of performance he put in on Saturday, to such devastating effect.

Where this leaves Robin van Persie, Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez however, is another puzzle all together for United's under pressure boss.

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