Is Mata the chosen Juan?

Posted by Mark Payne

Manchester United's 1-3 defeat at Chelsea had something pitiful about it. It was United's worst performance at Stamford Bridge since 2005, when they witnessed the Blues' coronation as champions. On that day, Cristiano Ronaldo was a great source of frustration for United fans. How things change. And they could do so again.

The resignation to defeat when Samuel Eto'o's third goal went in at the weekend was a surprise to few. The United players simply didn't believe in themselves. Nobody had seriously expected them to unpick Jose Mourinho's Chelsea at home and there was a woeful expectation level before kickoff.

- Lythell: Mata to Utd makes no sense for Chelsea
- United closer to Juan Mata transfer

Former Manchester United captain Gary Neville used his column with Sky Sports to highlight several areas that need addressing. "There are a group of players out there who need help," said Neville of the current United team. "They need inspiration and they need lifting. You saw the effect of [Mesut] Ozil at Arsenal."

Days later and Manchester United are reportedly in advanced discussions to sign Juan Mata from Chelsea and are hopeful of securing a deal by this weekend. Perhaps it doesn't make much sense to buy an attacking midfielder after a dreadful defensive display, but Arsenal were not really in need of an attacking midfielder when Ozil became available, either. Arsene Wenger simply saw that a quality player had come on the market and acted.

The purchase of the German international had a galvanising effect on the Arsenal dressing room. At the time of writing, Arsenal's perennial underachievers are top of the league and having their "best ever season," according to the veteran manager. Ozil has provided that spark.

Manchester United also have experience of seeing a new player invigorate those around them. The acquisition of Robin van Persie last season was a classic example. The Dutchman brought the best out of his colleagues as United overachieved in the Premier League and won the title.

The template of this type of transfer was, of course, Eric Cantona arriving long after the beginning of the 1992-93 season. The Frenchman helped a stuttering United to find form and lift their first title in 26 years.

Juan Mata would not be a risky and panic acquisition along the lines of the £35 million capture of striker Andy Carroll for Liverpool in the 2011 winter transfer window. Mata was Chelsea's player of the year two years on the trot and has collected big trophies with the London club and with Spain. His is a star that has shone brightly and has plenty of burning left to do.

One of the many things that has frustrated match-going Manchester United fans is the lack of creativity the side have shown going forward. Mata is determined to earn a place in Spain's World Cup team and, quite clearly, prove a point to Mourinho, too. His presence on the training field would cause the other players to raise their games.

Mata is blessed with a deftness of touch, allied with a gnarled aggression, that should send the wind up anybody who has been taking it easy. And frankly, there are too many players at United who are not working hard enough right now.

Although £40 million looks like a lot of money, Mata is a proven talent, he is motivated and available. There might be other players in other positions United need more, but none match that criteria. There can be no more Marouane Fellaini-type purchases.

Mata will greatly improve on the current squad, which should be a primary concern with any player purchase. His signing makes perfect sense and if everything goes well, it could save Manchester United's season.

The fact of the matter is, United's season needs something to save it. And the sooner the better.

Mark Payne is the author of "Fergie's Last Stand."


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