Gary Neville: Jose Mourinho has a big problem at Manchester United

by Leo Nieboer

Former Manchester United full-back Gary Neville believes Jose Mourinho has a big problem with regard to Juan Mata‘s role at Old Trafford this season.

The Spaniard has made 11 Premier League appearances so far this season, netting five goals in all competitions – including the winner against Manchester City in the League Cup back in October.

However, Mourinho has used Henrikh Mkhitaryan – perhaps Man United’s best player since he made his return to the starting XI back in November – for the last two Premier League games.

Neville, speaking after United’s 1-0 win over Spurs last weekend, believes that Mata’s lack of power and speed precludes Mourinho from getting the best out of Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

“I don’t think it’s a day to dismiss Juan Mata. It’s better to talk about the positives,” he said. 

“I would always question whether Juan Mata has got a place in this Manchester United team in a wide area in the way that Manchester United should play.

“They should play with players that are mobile in wide areas, in my opinion. I think if Juan Mata was going to come back in it would have to be in one of the three midfield positions or as a No 10.

“For me, I don’t think it’s the end of Juan Mata. I think he’s been pretty good this season when he has played and I don’t think he had done much wrong.

“To me it looks as better balance [without him]. When you have Zlatan Ibrahimovic up front, you’ve got a player who is immobile and can’t run in behind, but holds the ball up really well.

“That tells you that you have to play with pace either side of him. What worries defences is pace, so from my point of view, the balance is right now.”

Mata has surprised everyone this season. It was thought by many that, upon Mourinho’s arrival, the Spaniard’s days were numbered. But a series of crafty performances, replete with incisive passes, smart runs into space and several important goals, has all but completely silenced those that doubted him.

That said, when it comes to picking an attacking midfielder capable of injecting not just creative impetus but raw power and speed, Mata comes off second best to Mkhitaryan. The Spaniard may be clever on the ball, but Mkhitaryan brings a sense of unpredictability – an ability to create something out of nothing, perhaps through a piece of skill or a surging run forward.

Such a presence on the right hand side pulls defenders apart on a regular basis, providing more space for Ibrahimovic to inflict damage.

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