The papers are filled with love for Manchester United’s first Premier League goalscorer of the new campaign Juan Mata, after the 28-year-old Spaniard showed impressive tenacity when bagging the opener in his side’s 3-1 win at Bournemouth.
Even United boss Jose Mourinho, who flogged Mata to the Red Devils six months into his second spell as Chelsea chief three winter transfer windows ago, offered words of encouragement after the south-coast clash:
“One thing is the stories people write. The other thing is the reality…Seeing what happened in our previous club, people thought he had no future. It is completely different.
“I trust him. Every time he plays, I know what he can give and I know what he cannot give. He has a lot to give.”
Mourinho’s assessment points to Mata remaining at the north-west giants beyond the August 31st transfer deadline, but the Portuguese tactician’s summer business suggests the former Valencia maestro will do well to nail down a regular spot in the 13-time Premier League champions’ first XI.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan, last season’s Bundesliga Players’ Player of the Year and top assister, has replaced Mata in both Mourinho’s competitive games in charge so far, including 26 minutes after the 40-cap Spain star had stepped off the bench himself in United’s Community Shield victory over Leicester.
That leaves Mata bang in the firing line to make way once Mourinho deems Mkhitaryan up to pace with the demands of English football, while captain Wayne Rooney looks to have the number 10 role coveted by the makeshift right-forward nailed down for now.
Marcus Rashford and Memphis Depay will have chances to impress in the wide berth Mata currently occupies too, while the return of world-record signing Paul Pogba to United’s midfield, after a four-year hiatus with Juventus, is likely to force a significant reshuffle of the Red Devils pack.
For all Mourinho’s kind words, the most significant may have been ‘I know what he cannot give’.
Mata is not a natural wide player, and when his new/old gaffer settles on a first XI, the man he couldn’t get rid of quickly enough will likely find himself warming the bench once more.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.