The quirk of Chelsea playing in the FA Cup Final meant that this would be United’s last home game of the season. It says a lot that a match with very little riding on it and played out in a testimonial atmosphere would probably be up there in the best part of the season. Elanga found Bruno well for the first goal. Ronaldo struck from the spot and Varane’s deflected effort flew past Raya. Matic and Mata definitely played their last games at Old Trafford for United. Cavani and Jones probably as well. Rangnick managed his last game as well. At least they signed off the season in a decent fashion.
Back To The Mata
It has been 8 and half years since Man Utd broke their transfer record to bring Juan Mata, who had fallen out of favour at Chelsea, for £37m. It was a signing that made sense in part (that side needed better end product and creativity outside of Rooney and Van Persie) but it went against the grain of what Ferguson had built in his 26 years presiding over the club. A diminutive technical player, who prefers playing in the pockets and centrally, but most of his time at United has seen him out on the right side. He actually done it well in parts but he has always looked better in the hole.
Tonight we saw what could have been, if United played Mata more in that position and if Mata was much more consistent in his performances. It wasn’t even the fact that he done anything remarkable in terms of carving something out of nothing. It was the fact that he just by retaining the ball well enough and keep things ticking on the offensive end added so much to United’s play. People think that controlling the football match only comes from the midfield in deeper areas but the best teams have control in all thirds and having a No.10 who does so in that area makes you jump up a few levels.
Even at his best, Mata was not the best at this and was actually more of a second striker than your David Silvas or Mesut Ozils but such is the lack of offensive control that this United team yield, that Mata can come in, play like he did today and it be an opening of the eyes of what is possible. Pogba and Bruno have their own qualities but they are better in transition than the attacking organisation phase of the game. Mata was good in all things and was unlucky to not get an assist as VAR ruled out a Ronaldo goal. In the 74 mintues he played, in what was quite clearly his last game for the club, he perhaps showed the blueprint for the future.
Since his decision to announce the fact that he would be leaving at the end of the season, Matic too has shown that something that if he were more reliable in his play, he would have been able to offer United much more than what he has over these last 6 seasons. Frustratingly, as he has grown older, his legs have gone but his passing has gotten better. When he first came, it was the other way. He was able to cover ground competently enough but his passing wasn’t as crisp as it needed to be in order to get the ball to the front players more efficiently. He had 100% pass accuracy at half time, with 57 passes all meeting their target. He too should have had an assist on his swan song game but Bruno skewed wide. Hopefully, he is replaced with a better version of himself.
Ronaldo officially became the best league striker in the post Fergie Premier League era. Lukaku, Martial, Rashford and Ibrahimovic all got to 17 goals in seasons. Bruno Fernandes managed to get 18 last season so would need another to flat out become the best. Before tonight, he had scored 8 of the last 9 goals that Man Utd had managed to score. Outside of Burnley, all his goals have actually been pretty significant in terms of winning the points or getting us back into games. Today, he gave us the breathing space from Brentford. He is finishing the season incredibly well and making it look like a difficult decision for Ten Hag to not have him leading the line next season. The talk has been that a striker is a necessity, and it is, but maybe one to help rotate Ronaldo is something that could be looked at because they’d have to be pretty special to take the number 7 out of the team right now.