Wayne Rooney’s red card against West Ham United will see him miss Manchester United’s next three Premier League matches.
Those games are against his former club Everton, West Bromwich Albion and current league leaders Chelsea, and with a top four finish a must this season, Louis van Gaal will want to win all three.
Without Rooney, that will be more difficult, but his likely replacement could see those games as three huge opportunities to prove he has a future at Old Trafford.
Since Louis van Gaal took over this summer, questions have been asked regarding Juan Mata, and those questions only multiplied when Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao arrivals ultimately saw the Spaniard cast to the bench.
But with Rooney injured, Mata is likely to start in his preferred position behind a front-two of Falcao and Robin van Persie, and with Shinji Kagawa no longer at the club and Adnan Januzaj getting little game-time of his own, surely Mata will feature prominently in his captain’s absence.
Mata’s goal-scoring record remains impressive, and while he has had to watch van Gaal trial a new-look front-three in recent games, prior to that he scored against both Sunderland and Queens Park Rangers.
The most recent reports have claimed Mata is a target for a number of Spanish clubs and could be on the move in Janaury. But Rooney’s suspension and Kagawa’s departure shows just why the former Chelsea player remains a vital part of United’s squad.
He will want to show that in the next three matches, and if he can inspire the club to three victories, scoring and assisting in the process, surely van Gaal must accept that he is an excellent option to have either from the start or on the bench.
After all, this season United may not have as many matches to contend with, but next season they will be hoping to have plenty more if they can return to Europe.