Should Juan Mata, Manchester United’s Spanish midfielder, have been included in the starting line-up of the game against Sevilla? Would United still be in the Champions League competition if he had started the game? Arguably, United are more effective as a team when the Spaniard is included in the starting eleven, something that is borne out by statistics.

So far this season, Mata has been in the team for 28 kick-offs. In those 28 games, Man U have dropped no more than five points in total. The breakdown reads 23 straight wins, fours drawers and only one defeat. It put their win percentage at 82% for the games in which the Spaniard started.

United lose when Mata isn’t in the starting eleven

When Mata is not in United’s starting eleven, the win percentage drops right down to only 41%. Out of 17 games, this translated as a mere seven wins, two draws and eight defeats. The statistics really do speak for themselves.

The fact of the matter is that Mata tends to be played against lesser teams. In games against other top teams in the Premiership, the manager, Jose Mourinho has a preference to choose players on the flanks who have pace. He has only been given one start in the games against rivals Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea, his old club.

In the local Derby game against City, the Spaniard came on as a substitute for the last nine minutes. But for some reason, even though he played the full 90-minutes against Liverpool last weekend, he was not listed in the starting line-up for the game against Sevilla – and it cost United dear.

Too little, too late

As it was, Mata was pulled off the substitutes’ bench in the 77th minute in the Sevilla game. But it was too little, and it was too late to stop United being beaten. In the end, this was their ninth defeat of the season, and it surely cannot be a coincidence that eight of these losses were in games where Mata was absent at the kick-off.

In Mourinho’s own words, the Spaniard is an important player not only for the club, but for the manager himself, and for the other Manchester United players too. To prove the point, the Portuguese manager has triggered an optional one-year extension to Mata’s contract.

Other factors that played a part in the defeat by Sevilla

Missing Mata from the starting eleven wasn’t United’s only mistake for the game against Sevilla. Because Sanchez was allowed to take up his position on the left-hand side of the pitch, Rashford, who likes this position himself, played on the right. It was a big error in a game where Sanchez struggled to engage at all.

There is some speculation about whether the arrival of Sanchez might force Rashford to leave. But in Gary Pallister’s view, reported in a recent interview, he believes that Rashford needs to work hard to establish his rightful place on his favoured flank.

Rashford is far more effective of the left, and this fits in with most modern football managers’ policies to position players on the flank opposite to their preferred foot. This also works well with Juan Mata. Who knows what the outcome would have been if both players were given their favourite roles from the outset?




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