Manchester United are ready to open talks with Atletico Madrid over the potential sale of Juan Mata, despite having won just once in the six games he hasn’t started this season.
As flattering as that stat is, the deal is one United should pursue.
For some, that may be unthinkable. After all, the club forked out £37m for the midfielder just three seasons ago. Louis van Gaal also finally appears ready to accept that the creator is best deployed as a number 10.
However, the public perception that the former Valencia man has been used out of position for much of his United tenure is incorrect.
The reality is that he has spent almost as much time playing in his preferred position as he did at Chelsea, without making the same impact.
For the Blues, the 27-year-old won league-wide acclaim while pulling the strings from an attacking midfield position.
According to football data gurus Transfermarkt, he played 67 of his 135 games for the Londoners in behind the striker. That equates to just shy of 50 per cent of his Stamford Bridge career. In that role, Mata contributed 16 goals and a whopping 37 assists.
Since moving to Old Trafford, the two managers he has played for have handed him a similar proportion of appearances as a 10.
40 of his 86 Red Devils appearances thus far have come in attacking midfield, again according to Transfermarkt’s data. That’s 46 per cent of his United outings, yet he’s contributed 11 goals and just seven assists.
For whatever reason, the 37-cap international just hasn’t matched his Chelsea production and the chance to cash in on his poor form cannot be passed up.
An example of his ineffectiveness for the Red Devils can be found in the last four league games, where Van Gaal started Mata in the number 10 role in three and introduced him as a half-time substitute there in the other.
During that span, United scored five goals. Mata assisted none of them. The team also created 44 chances, of which the midfielder was responsible for six.
Wayne Rooney, who could easily replace the Burgos native in the same position, had two assists and created 10 chances in that time.
The Englishman’s ability to fill the void allows United to replace Mata without dipping into the transfer market. It also balances their starting XI, as it frees up Anthony Martial to play centrally.
With Mata signed up on a contract that runs until the summer of 2018, the club could demand a pretty penny from Atleti for his services.
Rumours that free-spending Chinese Super League sides are also eyeing the player only further the case for the Red Devils to cash in.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.