Last night saw Manchester United overcome a plucky Hull City side, who did well to keep the score at 2-0 considering they couldn’t even field a full bench due to injuries, in the first leg of the EFL Cup semi-final.
The first-half produced little chances but the deadlock was finally broken ten minutes into the second, when Juan Mata timed his movement perfectly to peel off the back of a defender, latch onto a Henrikh Mkhitaryan flick-on and poke the ball home from a short distance.
It was by no means the greatest goal of the Spaniard’s career, but it was nonetheless well deserved for a solid attacking performance against hardworking if somewhat blunt opposition.
Indeed, as our infographic shows, in addition to opening the scoring, Mata produced five crosses, three key passes, two more efforts at goal and two successful dribbles. He also had 77 touches – the most of any United player operating within their front four.
Mata’s status within the Red Devils first-team is an unusual one. Whilst he’s featured far more regularly under Jose Mourinho than many expected in the summer, following their infamous issues at Chelsea, even a return of seven goals and three assists this season hasn’t been enough to guarantee him a place in the starting XI.
The 28-year-old sat out the last Northwest derby in October, with Mourinho favouring the more industrious styles of Marcus Rashford and Ashley Young out wide. But clearly in good form after making such a difference against Hull and also boasting a phenomenal return against top six Premier League opposition, Mata deserves another chance to impress when the two ancient rivals meet again this Sunday.