When Manchester United decided to add more muscle to their already top-heavy squad with the signing of Radamel Falcao, Juan Mata was thought to be the man whose playing time would diminish as a result.
Rightly or wrongly, those theories seem to have been realised, with the Spaniard dropped to the bench in both the harrowing defeat to Leicester and the scraped victory over West Ham.
However, the petulance of his leader seems to have afforded the former Chelsea man a chance to prove his worth.
Wayne Rooney will be banned for three games after receiving a straight red card against West Ham for kicking out at Stewart Downing, leaving Mata free to reprise his role behind the strikers.
Those games, against Everton, West Brom and Chelsea, will be potentially decisive in Mata’s Man United future, with his former club Valencia reportedly willing to rescue him from the Old Trafford pine.
A return to the club for whom Mata scored 33 league goals in 129 games is sure to appeal to the attacking midfielder, but the Spanish side will only be able to afford the player’s fee and wages should a protracted takeover bid from new Salford City owner, Peter Lim, be completed.
What’s more, the appeal will only grow if the boy from Burgos fails to convince Louis van Gaal that United’s number 10 role should be reserved for him over the course of the next three matches.
Unless he impresses, a stint back on the sidelines awaits Mata, who would be the subject of more transfer furore come the opening of the January transfer window as a result.
The Red Devils are 7/10 favourites with Ladbrokes to topple the Toffees on their visit to Old Trafford, something the former Premier League giants have only managed twice in the last four meetings there.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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