Di Maria vs Juan Mata: Who should start as United visit Anfield?

Juan Mata

Ahead of Manchester United's weekend trip to Anfield, we analyse the stats. Should Louis van Gaal opt to start Juan Mata or Angel Di Maria?

Louis van Gaal has a conundrum on his hands ahead of Manchester United's visit to Anfield. Following Angel Di Maria's return from suspension, the Dutchman faces a difficult choice - does he opt to start the Argentina international or stick with fan favourite Juan Mata?

Di Maria was forced to sit out of the club’s excellent 3-0 victory over Tottenham last weekend after being sent off in the FA Cup defeat against Arsenal, and his absence gave Mata the chance to make his first league start since January; an opportunity the Spaniard took with aplomb.

As the Red Devils delivered, arguably, their best performance of the season, Mata linked well with Ander Herrera in central midfield. Van Gaal's side displayed a synchronicity rarely seen this season, but must now decide whether to upset the balance in his latest system by replacing one of its key components.

Angel Di Maria has made 20 appearances (1,481 minutes) this season, while netting three league goals - the most recent came in October - and registering eight assists. Juan Mata, meanwhile, has scored on five occasions, while assisting a further three goals in 24 games (1,570 minutes) for the Old Trafford outfit.

 Attacking Stats per Game PositionTeamMinutes per GoalMinutes per AssistKey PassesShotsShot Accuracy (%)DribblesDribble Success (%)Pass Accuracy (%)AppsMins Played
Ángel Di María MF Man Utd 493.67 185.13 2.25 2.8 29 2 37.74 78 20 1,481
Juan Mata MF Man Utd 314 523.33 1.29 0.83 35 0.38 36 89 24 1,570

In an attacking capacity the duo boast tremendous strengths, albeit in different areas. Di Maria emerges superior when it comes to his chance creation, whereas Juan Mata, despite recording fewer attempts per appearance, is significantly more prolific in front of goal. In terms of dribbles completed, however, again the Argentine international reigns superior.

Nonetheless, Mata is far more efficient in possession, as the statistics suggest. We witnessed his impressive distribution during his performance against Spurs last weekend, and, having successfully completed 89% of his total attempted passes this term, it comes as little surprise that he is one of the Red Devils' outstanding performers in this key area.

 Defensive Stats per Game TacklesTackle Success (%)InterceptionsClearancesBlocks
Juan Mata 0.83 75 0.5 0.13 0.04
Ángel Di María 0.6 75 0.8 0.1 0.05

Defensively, there remains little to split the duo, as in fact, both offer relatively little in this regard. This could work to Liverpool's advantage at Anfield, as Brendan Rodgers' combative midfield duo looks to dominate on home soil. This makes the availability of Marouane Fellaini even more important for Louis van Gaal, whose team could otherwise find themselves overwhelmed.

Throughout his one-and-a-half year spell at Old Trafford, Mata has always been a regular on the scoresheet, while Di Maria is fabled across Europe for his ability to fashion the perfect opportunity with the flick of his boot. Based on form, the former is the obvious choice, but the Argentine's ability to instantly change a game could prove instrumental.

Nonetheless, the former Real Madrid man has been bereft of confidence of late and this has been reflected in his recent performances. With his side's dominant display against Tottenham fresh in the memory, one would expect Van Gaal to stick with Juan Mata, allowing him the option to call upon his record signing talisman from the bench in the latter stages.

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