Despite having played – and won – his first game for Manchester United, things are not that different for Juan Mata or the club than what they were a week ago, writes James Clancy.
The 25 year-old made his debut in the flattering 2-0 win over Cardiff at Old Trafford. Mata is undoubtedly a star signing. He is the vindication fans wanted that United are still relevant, that their owners back the manager, and that David Moyes is beginning to develop an air of authority.
The hysteria surrounding his arrival has provided a welcome diversion from the despair of the six months that preceded it. Don’t forget that Tottenham, Swansea, Sunderland, and Chelsea have defeated United in January alone with United also being knocked out of both domestic cup competitions in the first month of the year.
Mata would improve any team, but United’s deficiencies are obvious and this splurge shouldn’t detract from those truths. For the fans, the inflated positivity should last about 90 minutes. Ryan Giggs and Phil Jones as a central midfield duo just doesn’t work. Jones’ range of passing is extremely limited, and his apparent shortcomings cannot be substituted by endeavour and willingness to graft. There’s also a palpable unease whenever United’s back four are placed under any form of distress. On Tuesday night, Cardiff simply didn’t see enough of the ball in attacking positions to pressurise the home side.
Moyes is clearly aware that there is plenty work to be done. Speaking to the media after beating Cardiff, the Manchester United manager said: “I still want [us] to be more convincing. I want to win better and want to play much better so don’t think because I’ve won tonight that that means that I’ve got a smile and I’m happy.
“I’m happy for the three points but for where I want to go and the vision for where I want my team to play, I still feel as though I’ve got a long way to go.”
Conviction, or lack thereof, is the key word for United. Despite all the hullabaloo surrounding the Mata signing – as well as the fact that United did of course win – to say it was a “convincing performance” against Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s charges would be well wide of the mark.
Mata can perhaps resolve this to an extent, though his performance against Cardiff felt like he was experiencing the match rather than truly taking part in it, which is somewhat understandable given how little time he has had to adjust to his new colleagues. He was played in his favourite position, just off Robin Van Persie, and the Dutchman as well as Wayne Rooney are likely to prove pivotal to the Spaniard’s fortunes at the club.
Mata is a fabulous player, signed because he is a fabulous player, but not in the position most needing filling by the club. Moyes has been willing to acknowledge that, stating immediately after the game against Cardiff: “We will get used to him and he will get used to us. I wanted to see him and Robin together tonight, but we will use him in different positions.” From the evidence seen on Tuesday night, it’ll take more than Juan Mata to make United a force at the sharp end of domestic and European football again.
Pundit Arena, James Clancy.