David Moyes said he saw positives in Manchester United’s game, the 2-1 loss away to Stoke on the weekend. It’s an understandable public stance from the United boss, though one you’d hope he isn’t peddling behind the scenes in the dressing room. The truth is it wasn’t a good game, one that had few clear cut chances for United take all three points.
Juan Mata’s signing does give Moyes more to work with. Besides the lift the entire club will have received, the Spaniard is another source of goals and assists. If Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney are to collectively miss any games from now until the end of the season, Mata is a far better option to have to lead the team’s creativity than those at Moyes’ disposal prior to his arrival.
But the key for Moyes is finding a balance that clearly wasn’t there with all three of Mata, van Persie and Rooney in the team against Stoke. It is very much a situation of dealing with the short term and getting the club to the summer in a healthy position from this season. Champions League qualification is obviously the revised target.
What needs to be asked is whether the team are collectively set up to get the best out of Mata, and to allow others in the team to thrive off his inclusion. For starters, why shouldn’t he, a natural creative player, be given the keys to the team, and by that I mean the role behind the striker?
Wayne Rooney of course commands that role, but is it beneficial to the team? It’s a positive headache for Moyes to have, but one that needs seeing to nevertheless. In Rooney and van Persie, the United boss has two natural and experienced goal scorers; each confident and able to fire the club to where they need to be. In Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez, Moyes had a duo who couldn’t help the team past Sunderland in the League Cup, a team battling against relegation.
It is about accommodating, but it’s also about working to the strengths of the team. With Maya out wide, there isn’t a natural course for the ball to be fed towards the lone striker, whoever it may be. Rooney plays there, he drops deep to support the midfield, but he’s far from as gifted as Mata is around the penalty area and when intricate play needs someone of the former Chelsea midfielder’s skill.
Moyes may end up having to upset one or two names, whether that be Rooney or another. But it is for the good of the team. Mata is the creative influence the team have been crying out for since the days of Alex Ferguson; why then limit Mata’s influence by deploying him wide in a rigid formation just so, presumably, Rooney is kept happy?
Defensive stability is evidently Moyes’ strength, stretching back to his time at Everton. He knows how to organise his teams and you’d imagine he’d be able to do a good enough job with the defensive-minded players currently available at Old Trafford.
But marrying that with an attack that is effective will be key. It’s been United’s weak point up until now, as even with van Persie fit at the start of the season, the Dutchman was starved of service.
Building the team around Mata are the steps that need to be taken to avoid repeats of the Stoke. Not so much the result, but the performance in general. Throwing the midfielder into the system currently set up at United will be a waste of Mata’s talents and ability to turn around United’s season.