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Premier League: Can the signing of Chelsea's Juan Mata really save Manchester United's season?


Manchester United are on the verge of signing Chelsea's Juan Mata for a club record £37 million fee, with the deal expected to be completed after a medical on Friday.

It's certainly a signing that's raised a few eyebrows, amongst United and Chelsea fans alike.

For Blues fans, they're seeing their player of the year for the last two seasons being sold to the side who have been their main threat to the Premier League title for the past decade.

But the shrewdness of this sale should not be lost on Chelsea fans, given the shift in dominance from the red to the blue side of Manchester this season.

 It cannot be denied that Manchester City pose the bigger threat to Chelsea's title hopes, and with both fixtures against United played, strengthening them for their matches against the likes of City and Arsenal with a player like Mata could prove decisive. And making a £10m+ profit on a player can never go down too badly with supporters.

Should Chelsea win the title this year, then Jose Mourinho will be revered for his vision in selling Mata, who would in a way still be playing for Chelsea, should his efforts in a United shirt take points from City and Arsenal to help Chelsea to the title.

For United, this signing has several implications, the first of which being that by signing Mata, David Moyes will be hoping he can have the same galvanising effect as the signing of Mesut Ozil had for Arsenal.

The Gunners were beaten at home on the opening day of the season, and with no signings the knives were out, but one record signing of a world class player in Ozil, and now life at the Emirates is rosey as they sit top of the league.

But United aren't a side who have lost one game, they're a side who have suffered blow after blow over a period of months. Seven defeats already in the league, 14 points behind Arsenal, out of the FA Cup in the Third Round, and a crushing penalties defeat to Sunderland in the League Cup semi-finals this week. All these blows have left David Moyes with a side bereft of confidence, creativity, and thanks to injuries, depth.

United's problem areas are well documented- with midfield being the main area of concern. Currently, United have a central midfield which consists of Michael Carrick, who is currently injured, Darren Fletcher, who has just returned from over a year out, and Tom Cleverley, who has been nothing if not solid, but hasn't really reached the heights predicted of him a couple of years ago.

Defensively too, United have been uncha­rac­te­ris­ti­cally poor. But it's not for lack of numbers, stalwarts Ferdinand and Vidic have been in and out of the side, and along with Patrice Evra, look to be at the curtain call of their United careers. Chris Smalling and Phil Jones are also problematic, both favouring the centre half berth, but both consistently played in other areas, with Jones in particular having hardly played there all season.

So what can signing Juan Mata do to fix these problems? He favours the number 10 role, which at United only falls to one man- Wayne Rooney, who ironically has been a target of Chelsea for some time, with rumours even emerging that a switch to Chelsea for Rooney has been agreed in the summer as part of the Mata deal.

Whether that's true or not remains to be seen, but what is true is that when Rooney, and Robin Van Persie, are both fit again, David Moyes will have a decision to make.

With Van Persie and Rooney fit, United usually play with Rooney sitting behind the Dutchman, with two wide players and two in midfield. This has been a defining characteristic of United's great sides of the last 20 years. The treble winning side for instance, with Giggs on the left, Beckham on the right and Scholes and Keane in the middle, albeit with a more traditional strikeforce in Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole.

So if Mata can't play the number 10, where then does he fit in? He is not a player blessed with pace, and when played out wide for Chelsea, he seemed to lose his influence on matches, so a change in formation is needed because quite simply- you don't spend £37 million on a player to play him where he's ineffective.

So does Mata sit behind Rooney and Van Persie up front, or does Rooney even move further back behind Mata, in a Steven Gerrard type role? People have touted him as a midfielder when he's older, but in any case the speculation about this will be short lived. 

If the deal is done on Friday, Mata could be available for United's game against Cardiff next week, but with Rooney and RVP still out, the true effect of Mata will not be fully realised yet.

When Mata does eventually arrive at Old Trafford, no doubt he will bring an air of positivity with him, but long term, if United don't fix their bigger problems, his signing could prove more of a burden than a relief.



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