When Manchester United procured the services of Jose Mourinho to succeed FA Cup-winning former manager, Louis van Gaal at the helm of the club, no other player on the United roster would have been more worried about his future than Juan Mata. However, three months into the season and Mata has been one of the best performers for Mourinho.
The Spanish playmaker had been at the end of a cold treatment by Mourinho during the duo's time at Chelsea. Many expected that Mata would be the first person to be sold by the Portuguese but with consistent performances, Mata has earned the trust of his manager and is probably one of the first names on the United team sheet.
Former Man United defender, Gary Neville has been surprised at the way Mata has played under Mourinho so far after having expected him not to fit the system at Man United. Following Man United's 1-1 draw with Arsenal on Saturday, Neville was of the opinion that the Spaniard was the best of the players in the forward line.
“I myself questioned whether he fits the profile of a Manchester United wide player, because that's where he is playing, even if I know he ends up drifting in.
“The ability to counterattack and have wing play has always been Manchester United's way, so you wondered where he would fit in. I have to say that's been one of the surprises out of the first few months in Jose Mourinho's reign,” Neville said.
Mata had opened the scoring in Man United's match against Arsenal. This was his third goal in 10 Premier League appearances he has made this season. Only Zlatan Ibrahimovic has scored more (6) for Man United in the league.
The hug that Mourinho and Mata shared after the player was taken off did prove that the past differences the two might have had with each other are all in the past. Mata's ball play has been crucial for Man United as he is the fulcrum of the team's attack more often than not.
Mata's understanding with Ander Herrera is nothing short of being exemplary as the two were involved in the goal against Arsenal, with Herrera pulling the ball back across in the box and Mata timing his run to perfection to slot the ball past a diving Petr Cech. The duo has been two of United's best players in recent matches despite the club's struggles to win.
Neville praised the way Mata has adapted to the system under Mourinho, waiting for his opportunity and coming up with the goods when called upon.
“He's adapted well, he's played well, and he's always had a good attitude. He's a top player. At the moment, he's doing very well. He was the better of the front three on Saturday,” he said.