Tag Juan Mata

Tag Juan Mata

Mata’s brilliance shines, but the Spaniard may never usurp Rooney

October 2, 2015 Tags: , Opinion 13 comments
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Louis van Gaal’s side is currently top of the Premier League table, and finally in the points in the Champions League. Yet if you believe much of the written press and watching public, this Manchester United side is not very good. It’s a confusing paradigm for the watching journalists as they report on the country’s form team. The Red Devils edged past Wolfsburg on Wednesday night, beating the Germans 2-1 despite a poor start and nervous finish. The highlight of the night was Juan Mata’s performance, whose irresistible play resembled that of his Chelsea days, when the Spaniard was the most feared attacking midfielder in the league.

Mata has learned to play the Van Gaal way, often having to sacrifice flair for function. Under David Moyes, the diminutive Spaniard was lost in a system which wreaked of inadequacy; a toxic mess of Evertonian steel mixed with tactical ineptitude. Van Gaal demands an exceptional work rate from his players, and if you were to believe Jose Mourinho’s judgement on application, Mata would be the first one out the Old Trafford door.

However, the player has made the right side attacking berth his own, popping up in a number of positions as he looks to move inside and participate. His work rate is outstanding too; only Morgan Schneiderlin covered more ground against Wolfsburg.

Mata’s display against Wolfsburg demonstrated just how much potential he has in a United shirt. He is a natural number 10, but has been overlooked by three successive coaches for the central role. The question for Van Gaal now is whether to ‘promote’ Mata into that role, leveraging the player’s stellar form, or stick with what he knows.

Mata has scored three goals and made three assists from his seven league matches this season and is in prime form to play behind Anthony Martial as United’s trequartista. But if this is the case, the question remains of what to do with Wayne Rooney.

The focus of attention in England is always on Rooney, with the extra weight of being Van Gaal’s captain also on his shoulders. Handling pressure is the not the issue for the skipper; the quality of his game, however, is not currently at its highest.

Rooney shifted from a role as United’s number nine to 10 after Martial’s purchase, with many supporters happier that the ‘boy wonder’ was moved to a deeper role. It is, however, a myth that Rooney is a modern number 10.

In the same way that Peter Crouch might be considered an old school striker, Rooney is a throwback to a deep-lying attacker. He neither threads a through pass or ghosts past opponents — as all trequaristas are expected to do. Rooney’s pace is no longer a relevant part of his arsenal, and it is a cold fact that he doesn’t score many goals.

It begs the question of what exactly Rooney does? In a year of transition, Rooney gave Van Gaal authority in the dressing room in a way Moyes never had. Rooney leads the Dutchman’s incarnation of United. He’s the archetypal ‘Prince of Wales, not the King of the Castle’, but is certainly not a commoner in the hierarchy of the club.

Rooney’s elevated club status has given Van Gaal a focal point within his squad that many believed Robin van Persie would provide. But Van Persie’s fall from grace gave the manager only one choice, and he gambled on the White Pele as his central protagonist.

That was fine for the first 12 months under the Van Gaal regime, but the club and side has evolved. There is, for example, Chris Smalling’s rebirth and Ashley Young’s reintegration into the squad as an important player. The acquisitions of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin have addressed the central midfield disease Rooney was asked to cure last term.

This evolution has made Rooney less relevant; Mata’s form and Martial’s explosive start to life at United dictate that Van Gaal should be brave and drop his captain. Yet, the manager’s words after United’s victory over Wolfsburg point towards Wayne staying in the team, unduly untouchable. Worse still, Van Gaal refused to give Mata the plaudits he deserved after a magnificent night.

“I don’t talk about individual performances, but I have seen Mata playing better than he did against Wolfsburg,” said Van Gaal. “I can say as a manager that he played very well and agree with you, but I don’t agree with you.”

It is a convoluted statement, considering Mata’s influence guaranteed United the points, but Van Gaal’s words appear to solidify Rooney’s role, by dodging the question of whether Mata should be moved to a role behind the striker.

Rooney has one goal in six Premier League games, and if this is the player’s ratio over the course of the season, he will do well to break double figures. This would be in line with the player’s grand contribution of 12 league goals last season, but if Rooney is to be Van Gaal’s main attacker – pulling the strings – then United need much much more.

Mata is ready for an extended run in a more central role, freeing up space for Young, who — despite being one of the Reds’ best players in the opening weeks of the campaign — has been forced to watch from the sidelines as the disappointing Memphis Depay finds his feet.

Mata would help Memphis and Young as they provide the width, and with Martial’s obvious pace, the Spaniard could practice the art of the through ball to his heart’s content.

The Rooney question has become a rhetorical one in 2015, but even the Englishman’s most fervent supporters admit he is not the force he once was. Meanwhile, Mata’s career has been on hold since Mourinho dumped him in favour of Oscar. It’s easy to forget the midfielder was one of the brightest talents in the world just a few years ago.

As Rooney enters his 30th year in October, Mata is in his prime, aged 27. Van Gaal may feel that sacrificing his captain is a sign of weakness, both to the squad and the British press, but the Merseysider’s displays have now sunk to such a low level, the coach must at least try to give a genuine creative talent a chance.

Mata must adapt or be cast aside

October 23, 2014 Tags: Opinion 13 comments
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It may surprise some, but against West Bromwich Albion last Monday Manchester United attempted 42 crosses. While not quite approaching a Moyesian figure, the number is quite significant given that Louis van Gaal is primarily known for passing football. Ashley Young made only a brief appearance in the Midlands, while Antonio Valencia was nowhere to be seen; most of United’s crosses came from Angel di Maria and Rafael da Silva. The quality has therefore improved from last season even if United still does not have a towering centre forward to take advantage.

Despite the large number of crosses against the Baggies’ there has been a noticeable change in how the Reds play since the new manager took helm in July. Defenders are now encouraged to take part in the build-up, while United’s tempo has been upped significantly. The debate over United’s central midfield style continues, but there is a greater emphasis on build up through midfield than in the past. after all, most of United’s engine room wasn’t with the club at this time last year.

Di Maria and Ander Herrera are more than capable of playing through the middle, while Juan Mata has several seasons’ worth of experience in a creative role in the Premier League. It is worth recalling that Jose Mourinho sold the Spaniard, part at least, for being too slow. Still, there remains a question mark over the Spaniard, especially given his disappointing performances in Wayne Rooney’s absence.

Mata’s distribution is short and he seeks to work the ball into the dangerous areas. Yet, the essential criticism of the Spaniard’s style is that with two strikers ahead of him, the Spain international needs to release Ramadel Falcao or Robin van Persie quicker. There is little need to deploy two up top if the team is going to play patiently around the centre.

Mata slows the game down to the extent that United has tended to cross from deep, albeit adroitly done by di Maria. The former Chelsea Player of the Year is then frequently called on to recycle the ball from advanced areas. Take Mata’s performance versus QPR as an example.

Juan Mata v QPR

Rooney, on the other hand, has characteristically sought to quickly and directly engage the flanks. The Englishman is also far more direct – he has attempted 2.17 runs per game while Mata has done so barely once every two games. Rooney’s other qualities, including his defensive contribution, have been noted and it seems that, even from a stylistic point of view, Rooney fits the Van Gaal philosophy more closely than Mata. Here is Rooney’s performance against Leicester City.

Wayne Rooney vs Leicester

It is also worth noting that Mata naturally takes up space in the hole, where Rooney does not. van Persie has often been shunted out wide in search of space while the energetic and creative Herrera faces clutter as he pushes forward with his compatriot in the team.

Perhaps, dispatching Shinji Kagawa instead of Mata during the summer was an error? After all, Kagawa has been well-schooled in ‘heavy metal’ style at Borussia Dortmund. Rooney, for all his many shortcomings, is tailor made for a high-tempo approach.

In Van Gaal’s midfield diamond the ‘number 10’ is essentially an attacker, with playmaking shared amongst three deeper midfielders. And while there is no denying that the Englishman sometimes slows down the play due to his lack of technique, he is prepared to run at his man and work hard for the team. Rooney offers an aerial target as well and his ability to play as a number nine opens up all kinds of interesting opportunities once he, Falcao and van Persie click. It seems that Kagawa had a home to return to and Mata didn’t.

Then there is Adnan Januzaj. His first start of the season ended disastrously, but then again few Reds left the Hawthorns with credit. It is also worth noting that only Rafael supported the Belgian regularly with Marouane Fellaini and Mata offering little in terms of ‘vertical’ support. Januzaj offers pace and, for now, his lack of playmaking maturity matters little in Van Gaal’s thinking. It could very well be that Januzaj, rather than Mata, is Rooney’s deputy at number 10 as the season progresses.

Yet Januzaj’s versatility is also worth considering. Van Gaal has often noted that Januzaj is one of his forwards. All signs point to the Dutchman trying to set up a fluid front three and the 19-year-old’s education as a ‘false nine’ in the reserves could come to feature heavily.

Van Gaal has already abandoned the diamond for a 4-1-4-1 system against West Brom – the 4-4-2 diamond is very thin on the flanks after all. The former Bayern Munich coach is also, along with Sir Alex Ferguson and Rafa Benitez, one of pioneers of the 4-2-3-1 very much in vogue in the Premier League. The system he settles will say much about the roles of Mata, Rooney and Januzaj.

At Bayern, Van Gaal paired the physically robust Van Bommel with the more technical Bastian Schweinsteiger in central midfield. In Herrera, Michael Carrick, Daley Blind and Fellaini the new United manager can set up a variety of holding midfield combinations.

The 63-year-old’s deployment of the energetic Thomas Müller at Bayern might suggest Mata will struggle to fit in at United, but it puts Rooney and Herrera as prime candidates for a role at number 10. Januzaj, meanwhile, could also fulfil the roles played by Arjen Robben and Franc Ribéry should van Gaal return to his German system.

It is interesting that Van Gaal’s philosophy has become increasingly focused on the attacking third. Perhaps due to his successful counter-attacking side at AZ Alkmaar and with the Netherlands, he has developed an apprehension for opposition breaks and the manner in which United has conceded goals this season will be weighing heavily on his mind. It leads to the conclusion that Van Gaal is no longer a fan of stroking around passes in the attacking third – lest a lucky interception leads to concession of the ball. It is not a good observation is you are Mata.

It seems that in Van Gaal’s brain the number 10 is an attacker. Rooney is one and so is Januzaj; Mata is a midfielder and a patient, albeit highly creative, one at that. There is another left-field option though: given the Dutchman’s history, Mata might very well emerge this season as a number four. Schweinsteiger, after all, was a winger until he was 26.

Attacking trio lights way to a more dynamic approach

April 6, 2014 Tags: , , Opinion 29 comments
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Imagine for a moment a Manchester United side without Robin van Persie or Wayne Rooney. In the kind of thought experiment common in pubs throughout the land consider, if you will, whether United could actually be better off without two of the finest strikers in Europe? Odd as the premise may seem, there is growing evidence that some of United’s more exciting performances in recent times have come when David Moyes’ hand has been forced into change by injuries.

None more so than at St. James’ Park on Saturday where the Reds hammered Newcastle United with a brand of dynamic, flexible, attacking football rarely seen under the new management. Neither Rooney, nor van Persie were available and, perhaps more pertinent still, United spent much of game without a traditional winger in sight.

This was a performance far flung indeed from the risible avalanche of crosses delivered against Fulham at Old Trafford in January, where United lobbed in more than 80 to such little effect that Cottagers defender Dan Burn compared it to Conference level football. Such has been the pattern for most of the campaign.

Indeed, at the heart of United’s performance at St. James’ was £37 million January acquisition Juan Mata, the rejuvenated Shinji Kagawa and teenage sensation Adnan Januzaj. Each man has a legitimate claim, and talent, to be United’s ‘number 10’; each seemingly lies behind Rooney in the pecking order for the role. Yet, in the north east the trio worked in tandem from the 18th minute on to devastating effect as United ran out comfortable winners.

Juan Mata heatmap vs Newcastle United

Juan Mata heatmap vs Newcastle United

While Januzaj’s form has waned a touch in the new year, Kagawa and Mata are growing as a pair with each passing game. The Spaniard was deployed through the centre against Newcastle, and Japanese nominally off the left, although in reality the formation for the final two thirds defied any real systemic label. Januzaj’s introduction created a flexible triumvirate that has little obvious resemblance to Moyes’ typical formation – one that history suggests the Scot is loathe to deploy.

Mata has become the perfect complement to Kagawa in the past month rather than, as popular perception might have it, the former Borussia Dortmund player’s replacement. “Its a pleasure to play with Shinji Kagawa, we connect very well,” said Mata of the growing partnership. In Januzaj the pair has a teammate very much cut from the same cloth.

And the Spaniard has certainly benefitted from the more central role proffered after van Persie’s latest injury. “I don’t see myself as a proper winger,” Mata told ESPN last month. “I love to play between the lines as a number 10, come inside, that is where I feel comfortable. I love to play in possession.”

He certainly did that at Newcastle, contributing 62 passes to United’s total of 531. Kagawa touched the ball 72 times, while the vital Darren Fletcher contributed 76 passes in the holding role. And while United remained direct – launching more than 15 per cent of balls long – the team played more passes in the attacking third than is often the case. In other words Mata, Kagawa and Januzaj are prepared to be more intricate in the build up than is typical when Ashley Young, Antonio Valenica or Nani are involved.

Kagawa, meanwhile, is still operating from the left, but as in the match at West Ham United last month, the Japanese is more likely to drift inside in Mata’s presence, seemingly stripped of – or simply ignoring – Moyes’ instructions to cover his full-back. It certainly aids the playmaker’s efficacy when United deploys two holding midfielders, with Fletcher and Marouane Fellaini starting against Alan Pardew’s side and covering as the visitors’ attack broke down.

Shinji Kagawa heatmap vs Newcastle United

Shinji Kagawa heatmap vs Newcastle United

“I played behind the main striker at Dortmund,” Kagawa told United Review last December. “I should be flexible enough to play in a number of roles, so I am a more attractive player to the team .” More pertinent still, Kagawa declared his desire to “play in the hole,” on signing in June 2012. “I feel like that’s where I play my best football.” Few will disagree.

But key also to United’s more dynamic approach at St. James’ was Javier Hernández’ presence. The Mexican is always on the move, whereas van Persie has become increasingly static this season as injuries and frustration bite. Rooney, meanwhile, has a tendency to slow United’s play down with long-range right-to-left passes into the space that Moyes venerates.

Hernández has been more frequently out of United’s first team than in it this season, but his ability to stretch the opposition and run in behind the back four proffered Mata, Kagawa and then Januzaj options for the final pass  – and, with some irony, far greater space in which to run. A similar observation could be made of Danny Welbeck, who is less explosive than Chicharito, but offers defenders a moving target. Life without Rooney or van Persie might strip United of goals, but a more flexible attacking approach is certainly the upside.

Yet, there is also a school of thought that says Moyes is unlikely to start any of United’s more creative players against Bayern Munich next Wednesday. Mata will be ineligible, Januzaj will surely drop to the bench, while Kagawa’s presence is far from guaranteed. After all in the home leg Moyes preferred the physical defensive presence of Fellaini together with Ryan Giggs’ experience in midfield.

Moreover, while the best offensive approach against Bayern is often to squeeze play, winning the ball back in higher areas of the pitch and then breaking quickly, Moyes tends to take a more traditional view of the defensive art. United dropped so deep against the Germans last week that Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidić simply defended their own 18-yard-line. ‘Parking the bus’ may be an effective defensive tactic, but United needs to win or score at least twice in Munich.

Still, it would be strange indeed for the Scot to deviate from his typical pattern, and Moyes’ analysis of United’s away form this season hints at the Reds’ likely approach in the coming Champions League fixture. United will not be taking the game to Bayern in the Allianz Arena.

“Maybe there’s a big expectation at Old Trafford to go and be a bit gung-ho and play in a real attacking style,” suggested the Scot on Saturday. “We’ve lost a few games by narrow margins – 1-0 (to) Newcastle United, Everton. We’ve lost a few games like that, whereas maybe away from home there’s not as much expectancy to go and be like that.”

Yet, the Reds’ victory at Newcastle was the first time this season that Moyes’ side had actually beaten an opponent in the Premier League’s top nine away from home. Defeat at the Etihad and Stamford Bridge, came alongside draws with Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur in north London. Fixtures with Everton at Goodison Park and Southampton at St. Mary’s will test United in the weeks to come.

In contradiction to the Scot’s analysis, Moyes’ tendency to approach difficult away fixtures with a defensive mindset may well contribute to United conceding impetus and possession to the opposition. In similar fashion the injured Rooney is likely to return in Germany, where Welbeck will be asked to  reprise his role on the left, and Valencia is favourite to offer defensive cover from the right.

As such, while it was a pleasure witnessing Mata, Kagawa and Januzaj in tandem on Saturday, it is an approach unlikely to be repeated next week.

Data attribution: Opta/ESPN

Mind over Mata for Moyes’ United

February 1, 2014 Tags: , Opinion 13 comments
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What exactly does David Moyes stand for? It is an open question that has touched the lips of many Manchester United supporters this season. For so long the Scot has been considered one of the Premier Leagues more reactionary managers in an era when the philosopher-coach has dominated. It is a précis of Moyes’ time at the top-level as much as a contemporary observation – one that has seemingly carried over to the 50-year-old’s first season with United.

Moyes reputation lies in relief to many of the game’s top managers; those that build teams conforming to a predetermined style. Pep Guardiola’s tika taka; Jurgen Klopp’s hard pressing game; Manuel Pellegrini’s intricate possession play; Arsene Wenger’s passing carousel. Even Brendan Rodgers has transferred his preference for possession football from Swansea City to Liverpool, as has Roberto Martinez to Everton.

Moyes, by contrast, has no philosophy of note; except the hugely predictable crossing game that has proven so ineffective this season. Predicated on quickly recycling possession into wide areas, overloading the flanks, and delivering crosses, United has scored just 38 Premier League goals this season. That’s 19 fewer than at the same time last season.

Yet, the £37.1 million acquisition of Juan Mata threatens to break the mold; to undermine critics of Moyes’ style. Characterised by some as a poor relation to modern football’s best, Moyes is now afforded the opportunity to adapt his philosophy with Mata in the side. The coach will have to if he is to get the best out of his new signing. Unless, of course, Mata breaks first.

There is, of course, legitimate discourse in Mata’s value to United. Not that there is any doubt in the 25-year-old Spaniard’s quality. In two full seasons with Chelsea the Spanish international twice claimed the club’s Player of the Year prize.

But at a time when the Reds’ vulnerability in central midfield – and at the back – has been stark, Mata is luxurious quality when Moyes could also do with a little more steel. It is problem United did not correct this window.

Still, in acquiring another creative talent, one that doesn’t fit into Moyes’ typical pattern, the manager faces a fascinating choice: to shape Mata into the Scot’s preferred system, or to evolve the habit of the past decade.

Indeed, Mata was deployed in a loose number 10 role against Cardiff City on Tuesday night and enjoyed 51 touches, but the Spaniard spent much of the night delivering cross-field passes to either flank. The contrast to Mata’s short-passing game at Chelsea, particularly under Rafael Benítez last season, is marked.

World-class playmaker or not, Moyes’ gameplan is still Moyes’ gameplan.

But that, of course, is where the debate really lies. Whether the Scot is ready to take his game on from a decade at Goodison Park. To use Mata, alongside Adnan Januzaj, Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, and perhaps even Shinji Kagawa, in a more fluid, less structured formation.

Time will provide the answer, although the manager’s history dictates it is an unlikely scenario. In fact Mata’s role will change again on Saturday, with United visiting Stoke City in the Premier League where the Spaniard is likely to start on the left in support of Rooney and van Persie in what looks much like Moyes’ 4-4-2 of old.

Whatever formation Moyes eventually adopts Mata’s capture has at least proffered the Scot more confidence than any of his victories with United this season. Perhaps more importantly the Spaniard’s introduction into the United dressing is the first step in what Moyes hopes is a transition away from a group of players who have largely failed him this season.

“I am disappointed we are not in a much stronger position,” admitted Moyes after capturing the Spaniard last weekend.

“I am disappointed with how we have played. I take the rap for that. But what I will do is make it right. I am going to get better players in.

“I have given every player the opportunity to show what they can do. If they want to be here they have to show it in the games. The message this sends is that we’re going for all the best players in the world.”

Even if the Glazer family’s predilection for parsimony has ended building a new side is no simple task. More so given Moyes’ total lack of experience in creating a team at the very highest level, if that is indeed the club’s summer plan. After all, the club’s market capitalisation on the New York exchange has lost more than 10 per cent since Moyes took control, seemingly prompting a new strategy to spend heavily for the first time in more than eight years.

First though United must surely qualify for next season’s Champions League. Without it dreams of signing Toni Kroos, Arturo Vidal, Luke Shaw or any of the many names brought up in the nation’s red tops will dissipate before a player walks through Old Trafford’s doors, let alone drags Moyes’ outfit kicking and screaming to a league title.

And that is where Moyes’ approach counts; where the shackles that have dominated United’s season can now fall. Those 38 goals scored to date might ordinarily suggest just 60 to 65 in the full campaign. To put that in perspective United scored 86 and 89 in the past two seasons under Ferguson. Everton failed to score more than 60 in any campaign during Moyes’ reign on Merseyside.

Goals are but a proxy for a more expansive style of course, although any observation of Moyes conservatism is hardly new. Rooney’s substitution for Chris Smalling in United’s draw with Southampton is just one example of many this season. Given a choice between a risk and a safer bet the Scot always takes the latter.

van Persie’s return to fitness will help United’s cause of course, as will Rooney’s reintroduction to the side after a month out. Yet, the Reds start Saturday’s fixture against Stoke six points adrift of Liverpool. Effectively seven with the Merseysiders’ vastly superior goal difference. It is a situation that requires United to win many of the 15 games remaining this season.

In that Mata is both a bold buy and a key player. It is not just that Mata could both create and score liberally as the season draws to a close, but that he might just prompt the manager into a rethink. In that there is but a small hope.

United’s dirty dozen

January 23, 2014 Tags: , , Opinion 18 comments
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The transfer business, it seems, holds as much intrigue as the game itself. Why else should columns of speculation fill the nation’s print media, rolling news file vacuous report after unsubstantiated rumour, and the blogsphere work itself into a new frenzy almost hourly. None more so than at times of great drama – and Manchester United’s £37 million bid for Juan Mata on Wednesday was just that.

There could be many more over the coming months, with perhaps a dozen changes in United’s squad between now and the start of next season. Given both the paucity of talent available to manager David Moyes, and the predilection among few of his squad to perform for the new man, change is indeed required.

United’s bid for the Chelsea midfielder is both a business transaction – should it conclude successfully – and a human story. After all, while Mata was named Chelsea’s Player of the Season in two full campaigns with the club, he has been largely ostracised in José Mournho’s high-tempo system. In a World Cup year Mata has fallen from Chelsea’s star turn, to a man likely to miss out on Spain’s squad for Brazil in the summer.

For Chelsea Mata is an expendable asset; for United, a desperately required injection of high-class into a limited squad, albeit in a role where manage David Moyes is already replete with options. Mata’s favoured role at ’10’ behind a principle striker is the one taken by Wayne Rooney this season, preferred by Shinji Kagawa, and likely to be Adnan Januzaj’s best.

Neither, given Kagawa’s experience at Old Trafford this season, is there significant confidence that Moyes truly knows how to get the best out of an impish creative talent of Mata’s ilk. Still, that analysis is churlish given the quality of player under negotiation.

The Spaniard’s likely capture is, depending on one’s outlook, born of United’s desperation, or the catalyst that will fire the Reds into next season’s Champions League. Europe is a goal that looks most unlikely without fresh impetus, and surely worth every penny of the substantial premium United will pay should the Champions League beckon next year.

But Mata’s capture is only one piece in a more complex puzzle of transfer activity that Moyes must undertake if he is to transform a squad that is patently not performing for the manager. Or perhaps good enough to do so. And if the club’s directors, as seems increasingly likely, trust the Scot to spend freely in the market the Moyes certainly needs to.

It is not just that this squad lacks the requisite quality to succeed both domestically and in the continent’s premier tournament, but that so many familiar faces are likely to leave the club in the coming months.

Indeed, there is likely to be substantial turnover in personnel – more than has ever been typical under Sir Alex Ferguson. After all, the average tenure of a United squad member is the second highest in Europe, behind only Barcelona, at more than five yeas.

Still, in Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidić, Patrice Evra, Federico Macheda and Fabio da Silva United face five contracts that come to a conclusion in the summer. None of the quintet has yet been offered a new deal, let alone accepted one. It seems almost certain that each will depart for a new destination come June.

Meanwhile, another clutch of players will be discarded by Moyes in the summer, or may well agitate for a fresh challenge having sat on United’s bench for much of the season. Anderson will be sold following a six-month loan spell at Fiorentina, while Alexander Büttner and Nani, despite the Portuguese winger’s new contract, will be sold if suitable bids come forth.

Then there’s a trio of perennial bench-dwellers for whom Old Trafford may no longer hold a fulfilling future: Kagawa, Anders Lindegaard and Javier Hernández.

Wilfried Zaha must perform on-loan over the next five months to retain his United status next season, while Wayne Rooney is certain to push for a move once again. It will take a significant change in strategy for United to countenance the Scouser’s sale.

But it is the big departures that fascinate the most. After a fine campaign in 2012/13, Ferdinand is approaching the final few weeks of his time as a United player. After more than a decade at Old Trafford, the Londoner can look back on the finest period of an outstanding career. The only decision that the former Leeds United defender must now take is whether to carry on elsewhere, possibly in the United States, or retire at the very top.

Vidić is a different scenario, with the 32-year-old still in demand across Europe. While the Serbian has long been below his peak, prudent continuity may dictate the club offers the giant a new deal. Yet, the noises from the Serbian’s camp strongly suggest a new dawn in the player’s career. After eight years in Manchester, the defender is likely to move to the continent.

Then there is Evra, who has enjoyed more than 350 games for the club, but in whom Moyes has such little faith that the Scot has made no secret of a strong desire to acquire a replacement.

In the stead of multiple departures Moyes will look for at least half-a-dozen new faces over the course of the next two transfer windows, starting with Mata.

Multiple changes are rarely ideal, nor the established United strategy over the past 25 years. Careful squad management had been a philosophy until the winter of Ferguson’s reign. Yet, for Moyes it is also an opportunity to shape a squad in his mould, perhaps to grow as a manager too. If ever the phrase ‘back him, or sack him’ was ever truly relevant this is it.

Moyes is certainly being backed in Mata’s acquisition, even if the Spaniard is an expense that might logically be better invested elsewhere. The 25-year-old will cost the club more than £66 million in fees and wages over the next four years – a transfer that once again exposes United’s lack of strategic planning in the market.

Still, Mata’s talent in not in doubt. The former Spanish under-21 international has grown from young high-quality attacking midfielder at Valencia, to world-class playmaker at Chelsea. He is the ’20/20′ player United has lacked this season – a man who can score 20 and create 20 in a single season.

In that there is a significant boost – perhaps the catalyst that will change the narrative of Moyes’ time at Old Trafford. After another horrendous result in Wednesday’s Capital One Cup semi-final, it is the very least Moyes needs.