With the return of Robin van Persie supplementing the arrival of Juan Mata, suddenly Manchester United look much stronger than they did over the past month.
It’s to be expected, of course. Both van Persie and Mata are a class above the players who have been available to David Moyes in recent weeks. The team have lacked adventure, confidence and bite in the final third. And with Wayne Rooney also making his way back into the team amid talks of a contract extension with the club, United should be considered favourites to finish in the top four this season.
What is quite clear is that Mata isn’t the final piece of business, nor is he enough to completely change the mood at the club long term. The Spaniard is, however, of sufficient class to turn around the club’s season now. He’s the type of player that adds another dimension to a team’s play. He raises the confidence of others around him and allows them to perform better. But there’s also very much a palpable sense of achievement at having secured a player of such quality, even if he is to be the only signing for United at this time.
And it would be wrong to say that United don’t have the squad to finish fourth. Their squad is deeper and more experienced than Liverpool, Tottenham and Everton, who are also vying for a place in the top four.
United need to overhaul their defence in the summer, with three key names coming to the end of their contract and questions raised about the futures of one or two more going into next season. But like the case with the centre of midfield, that is an issue that can be addressed properly in the summer window when opportunities will be greater to land players deemed first or second choice targets.
Nemanja Vidic and Michael Carrick can help to form a strong spine at that end of the pitch – and it’s also worth remembering Moyes’ strength in organising his teams defensively. With Darren Fletcher also available, United do have a means to solidify their defence with what they currently have and allow Mata, van Persie and even Adnan Januzaj to form a counterattacking system, which certainly suits the current team far more than a possession-based game.
There is no masking the shortcomings of this United team. What Mata’s signing does is offer the club a boost that should carry them over the line into Champions League qualification for next season. It was always unreasonable to expect the club to go on a £200 million spending frenzy in the final week of this window. That business will be reserved for a time further down the line.
Despite having a strong squad, United have lacked depth of a certain quality. Provided van Persie and Rooney’s injury troubles are behind them for this season, the addition of Mata does give the team an edge and another strong card where others are lacking. It’s about converting chances and killing off games, which United have been unable to do in the absence of their world-class calibre players.
It’s far from the complete team, but it’s a team more than good enough to finish in the top four. As well as providing a notable boost to the players, Mata’s arrival should allow Moyes to carry out his job with authority. A Champions League spot is far from out of reach.