This debate started when Mourinho was announced as manager but was quickly hushed. However, with the Spaniard’s game time limited, the question has to be asked again.
During the early parts of Mata’s first Manchester United season under Jose Mourinho, he proved himself to be a class player, almost undroppable. The little magician dismissed rumours that he’d be the first player out of the Old Trafford doors with a series of incredible displays.
Mkhitaryan, on the other hand, was struggling to make an immediate impact in the famous Red Devils shirt. It seemed as if Mata had beaten his direct competitor and one of Mourinho’s summer signings by nailing down a first team spot.
Since then though, things have slightly changed and the signs are there that history is repeating itself. At Chelsea, everyone knows the story- Mata was dropped by Mourinho in favour of building around the Brazilian wonder-kid Oscar.
Some stated it was due to Mata’s inability to defend or even help out his teammates defensively. This is a crucial factor as in Mourinho’s teams, the boss expects every player to defend from the front to the back so someone incapable of doing so would be considered a liability.
Earlier on in the season, Mata was incredible but he mainly performed well in a number 10 role with Rooney consistently disappointing in that position. Let’s not forget, even Rooney, the supposed club captain, has been dropped by Mourinho and it’s hard to see him be considered a player in United’s strongest XI.
The problem is that since then, United’s formation has since changed and the attacking midfielder role has been sacrificed for the sake of the team and in particular, Paul Pogba. The Frenchman has since kicked on and shown Mourinho why he spent so much on him in the first place.
A 4-1-4-1 formation has suited the team much more and has sparked a winning run along with a series of impressive displays. This means Mata’s only playable position in on the wings at United. The issue is Mata is not a typical Mourinho winger in any shape or form.
If you want an idea of what the typical Mourinho winger is, you don’t have to look very far. There’s a reason why the Manchester United manager bought Mkhitaryan into the club, it’s because he’s everything Mourinho wants in a winger- quick feet, has pace and is willing to defend with his life.
Mkhitaryan is essentially Mata minus the Spaniard’s weaknesses. Watching Mata play in the wing in a Mourinho team over the past few games has shown his inability to defend and how it puts the team at risk, especially with Valencia’s tendency to burst forward.
Under Louis Van Gaal, Mata flourished in the same winger position because he wasn’t expected to defend and so could focus on his positive attributes. In a Mourinho team though, Mata is a target for opposition teams.
Earlier in the season he did well because he played in the attacking midfield role which didn’t require too much defending. He could always rely on the two midfielders behind him to pick up his slack; in the winger role, he’s exposed.
However, despite Mkhitaryan looking increasingly likely to steal Mata’s position for good, it’s still early days and it’s more likely that the pair will compete with one another for the position. Only time will tell who will come out on top but the signs are pointing to, once again, Mata being benched by Mourinho before being moved on to another club.