Former Manchester United star Gary Neville has conceded that the team look better without Juan Mata in it, but refused to dismiss him entirely.
The Spaniard was dropped to the substitutes bench for the game against Tottenham Hotspur, with summer signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan finally starting to find his feet.
Although the former Borussia Dortmund star scored the winning goal on Sunday, he will now face a spell on the sidelines after picking up an injury which in turn could see Mata return.
However, Neville is convinced that the 28-year-old must now be played through the middle in a No.10 role or in midfield, as he doesn’t have the pace or overall attributes to play out wide and fit into the system better than others competing for the same spots.
It’s a fair assessment in truth and it’s likely one that Jose Mourinho will share, with Mata hoping that he get back into the side and impress in order to keep Mkhitaryan out when he returns.
“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,” Neville said in his podcast, as per Sky Sports.
“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. 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.”
With the pace and quality from the likes of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford out wide and Mkhitaryan’s probing runs behind Ibrahimovic, it all looks a better fit for United and so Mata could have a real fight on his hands.