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Underrated Juan: Why Mata makes Man Utd tick

Many would have been expecting one of star summer signings Memphis Depay or Anthony Martial to make the difference in Manchester United’s Champions League meeting with Wolfsburg, but it was instead Juan Mata whose mischief undid the Germans.

Yet again the Spain schemer, finally back on La Roja’s roster, proved influential with his exemplary vision and potent productivity.

See Mata’s marvellous recent strike for Spain:

A coolly converted spot-kick to equalise plus an inspirational overhead flick straight from the training ground to assist Chris Smalling’s winner stole the points for Louis van Gaal and co, showing just why the Dutch coach has stuck by his sometimes unfairly maligned man.

So quietly confident at the moment, Mata’s majestic form apparently means he does not even need to look to supply his teammates, and Man Utd (22/1 with Coral to win the Champions League) are surely benefiting from his forward-thinking.

With such a young squad, and elder statesman Wayne Rooney far from his best, Mata’s mature consistency has been the catalyst behind the Mancunian club’s ascent to top the Premier League for the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson’s exit.

Thriving from the shadows while the focus has been trained on Memphis and Martial’s more eye-catching magic, Mata has plotted many of Man Utd’s match-winning moments.

Champions League wonder-flick aside, the intuitive Spaniard’s silk has produced three goals and four assists so far in just seven league games, making him one of the most effective players in England.

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Even lauded fresh face Dimitri Payet lags behind the Burgos-born Man Utd man in the stats department, hinting that Mata’s contribution may have been oft overlooked.

Now 27, Mata is arguably in his attacking prime and, despite his hefty pricetag and relation to the disastrous David Moyes-era, is one of the most important cogs in Van Gaal’s clockwork possession-play.

Having previously come under pressure by pundits and fans alike for a perceived slowing-down of the Old Trafford attack, it is true the Spaniard’s lack of pace and physicality does not suit traditional ideas of a Red Devils winger.

Yet, quicker of thought than perhaps of feet, Mata has contributed 20 goals and 15 assists in just 62 outings since arriving in the Northwest, and has grabbed many a crucial goal drifting in from wide midfield, which is never his fixed position on the pitch.

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Perhaps too lightweight for Van Gaal’s tastes as a number 10, having Mata move inwards during a game to help dictate and contribute in the final third has clearly proven fruitful, with this switch to a roaming role perhaps saving his United career.

Not always effective, some games do appear to pass the playmaker by but, when it comes to the crunch the Real Madrid academy graduate more often than not comes up with the goods, while also importantly helping retain possession.

The Spain midfield conductor will never pull the strings as creatively and sublimely as a David Silva, or stretch play and take on players with tricks down the flank a la Ryan Giggs, but this unique player’s end product could truly prove vital this season as Man Utd (4/1 to lift the Premier League) hunt for silverware.