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Data Rant: Mata could survive Mourinho’s arrival

June 23, 2016 Tags: , Data 5 comments
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In the previous Data Rant column, midfield was identified as key area for Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United. It is not simply about strengthening a weak area in United’s squad – the analysis suggest that improving the Reds’ midfield will improve the team’s goalscoring too.

First we look at the four teams that finished above United last season; Leicester City, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City. The attacking attributes – goals, shots, assists, chances created and runs – of midfielders who played more than 25 games have been amalgamated into a per game, per player figure.

In this analysis United’s group of midfielders – Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard, Morgan Schneiderlin and Ander Herrera – significantly lag behind the leaders. Yet, instead of a Moneyball approach of simply buying statistics, United has to bring in top players to replace the mediocre ones. Mourinho could do with at least two world class players to bring figures up to scratch.

It is interesting that Nemanja Matic continues to be linked to an Old Trafford move. Schneiderlin recorded no assist last season and contributed little offensively. The Serbian midfielder, on the other hand, offers a more comprehensive package, despite seemingly doing little but looking after Cesc Fabregas.

Leicester’s N’Golo Kante is king when it comes to attacking statistics from a defensive midfielder. Of defensive midfielders that make at least as many tackles and defensive actions per game as Schneiderlin, (limiting the list to “obtainable” players – Sergio Busquets probably don’t want to leave Barcelona) Kante offers the most complete package.

Turning to targetable creative central midfielders and wingers, Napoli’s Marek Hamsik and Riyad Mahrez at Leiceister rank highly in the data, together with Everton’s Ross Barkley. Hamsik and Barkley, in particular, would fit well in Mourinho’s 4-3-3 system, much as Frank Lampard succeeded under the Portuguese manager.

Out wide, Henrikh Mkhitaryan would be an ideal purchase in terms of numbers, which is interesting given that United is brazenly pursuing the Borussia Dortmund midfielder. Mkhitaryan’s 11 goals, 82 chances created and 15 assists last season would go a lot towards curing United’s midfield blues.

While the data suggests a recruitment strategy, there is never a guarantee that players from foreign leagues settle in perfectly. Still, just two players would make United’s midfield above average and ‘top-four’ in terms of theoretical quality.

Where it leaves the current crop is another question. Mata is by far United’s best midfielder when it comes to the date – the Spaniard fares favourably with top midfielders in the Premier League. The history between the Spaniard and the Portuguese manager notwithstanding, it would surprise few should Mata remain at Old Trafford and lock down a regular role.

With that said, Mkhitaryan mainly plays on the right and Chelsea’s Willian, though his numbers are lower than the Armenian winger’s. continues to be the subject of speculation. Should either arrive it is hard to see a role for Mata on the right.

Mourinho is a far more flexible as a manager than many give him credit for, but Ander Herrera or even Maroune Fellaini might be a better fit tactically than Mata. If a more complete defensive midfielder is not truly necessary, Mourinho probably has the funds to push for Mata’s replacement.

It is also true that Mourinho is not opposed to the idea of using a number 10. Wesley Sneijder and Mesut Ozil blossomed under the new United manager’s guidance, and while Mata was forced out during Mourinho’s second reign at Chelsea, Cesc Fabregas is hardly known for his tactical discipline. Arsene Wenger used him in the hole, Barcelona couldn’t use the Spaniard in central midfield, and Spain turned him into a forward. Mata may very well survive and be given a central role.

5 comments

Sue Worsley - June 23, 2016 Reply

I hope so!

NazManUnited - June 23, 2016 Reply

Mata’s kept his head down & worked really hard, if he survived LVG’s regime, he should get one season with Mourinho

reds4life - June 23, 2016 Reply

Mata only been at OT for two and half seasons. I think he should stay same with Herrera he should stay if any mid field player should go it has to be schweinteiger and Fellaini.

Jay Shon - June 24, 2016 Reply

think Herrera will def given a chance by mourinho. Though my suspcion is that his level has been found and perhaps just not talented enough to be a truly elite player.

Young enough though that he can develop into a jack of all trades type needed at every elite side.

Harry - June 27, 2016 Reply

Good post. I’ve been asking myself what Man United could do in its midfield 3. Rooney is essentially a given at CAM/10. That leaves two midfield spots to play with.

From what we’ve seen in the past, Mourinho likes to have one strong and burly player in place who can defend like hell (Matic), and another who can play the role of passing maestro, initiating attacks and chipping in with 15+ assists (Cesc).

Unfortunately for us, we have the most MEDIOCRE “elite” midfield ever. You know there’s a serious dearth of talent when only Blind and Fellaini are actually good enough to start for their national teams. If Manchester United wants to compete at the highest level, it will need to bring on another midfielder in addition to Mkhitaryan (who’ll prob play R. Wing) AND it will have to release at least four or five. We currently have Schneiderlin, Schweinsteiger, Fosu-Mensah, Herrera, Blind, Fellaini and Carrick all going to for two spots. We’ve already made a decision on Carrick; Blind is the most consistent, is the best at following a game plan and is a utility player; Fosu-Mensah is 18 years old, 6’3 and has wicked pace and power. The rest – Schneiderlin, Schweinsteiger, Fellaini and Herrera- are great players who bring a lot of fight, a lot of team spirit, a lot of experience and a large following. That said, I think they either aren’t good enough (which is to say, I don’t think they would start at City, Arsenal let alone RM, AM, Barca or Bayern) or they’ve passed their prime. One, maybe two, is good enough to play an ancillary role and will provide great support from the bench (Carrick). I pick Schneiderlin for that. The rest? We just have to offload! New talent is desperately needed in the middle of the park.

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