Fit, value, circumstance: Initial reaction to Mata’s potential $65 million United move

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That Chelsea would even consider selling Juan Mata to Manchester United speaks of the depths to which the Red Devils have fallen, but since we’re completely embracing the extremes of this post-Alex Ferguson climate, we might want to consider the scenario that’s emerged Tuesday evening. That possibility has Mata, out of favor at Stamford Bridge ever since José Mourinho’s began picking favorites, moving to Manchester for $65.8 million (£40 million).

Setting aside the story’s veracity (it is a soccer rumor, after all) and that eye-bulging price, Mata would be an ideal fit for a United team that’s lacked creativity all season. With the absence of Wayne Rooney forcing 18-year-old Adnan Januzaj in from the wing to play behind Danny Welbeck, the club’s lack of playmaking options has been exposed. While some would say Shinji Kagawa’s a logical solution, David Moyes’ inability to craft a role for the talented Japanese international underscores the need for Mata. For as baffling as Mata’s exclusion as been in Stamford Bridge, Kagawa’s has been equally puzzling in Stretford.

When Rooney and van Persie return, Mata can play behind each, though the Spaniard’s defensive liabilities mean Rooney would have to pick up the slack. But given the lack of creativity in United’s team, that’s a tactical risk Moyes and Ed Woodward should accept. While Mata’s acquisition might require more imagination in how the Red Devils set up their team, the potential rewards shouldn’t be ignored.

If United is able to pull off the move, it would be adding one of the most productive players over the Premier League’s last two seasons. During that time, Mata recorded 18 goals and 30 assists in league play. Expand the scope to all competitions, and the Spanish international’s scored 32 times while setting up 55 others between August 2011 and May 2013.

This year, however, Mata’s been lost. Mourinho’s offseason arrival cost him his starting spot, with the 17 appearances he has made producing only one goal and three assists. Also linked with Paris Saint-Germain, Mata’s been a constant fixture on this month’s rumor mill, and with his team, having put a concrete price on one of their most talented players, speculation about Mata’s Chelsea future is bound to increase.

There are two big questions about the potential move. The first is whether the possibility even makes sense, but given the outlet (The Guardian), two trusted reporters in the byline, and the level of specifics in the report, this looks like one of the more solid transfer reports. Short of a direct quote from one the deal’s principals, there’s little more you could ask from a transfer rumor.

The destination makes sense, too. For the last decade, it would have been difficult to imagine Chelsea and United swamping such a high-profile talent. United’s swoon to seventh place, however, puts the prospect in a different light. Instead of helping a fellow title contender, Chelsea would be casting Mata into the battle for fourth. With the Blues done with United for the season, there’s no chance Mata could hurt Chelsea’s title hopes.

source: Reuters
Struggling in their first season under David Moyes (pictured) Manchester United have fallen from first to seventh in the Premier League. Only the league’s top four finishers qualify for UEFA Champions League. (Photo: Reuters.)

The money, however, is the second big question. Should United pay a club record $65.8 million for Mata? As far as on-field effects, few players are probably worth that money, but the players who can change games come at a premium. Although he hasn’t changed a game in a few months, Mata still carries that reputation. Particularly if PSG are still interested, Chelsea can justify setting an outrageous price.

From United’s point of view, this could be spun as a somewhat cost-conscious move. If the difference between seven and four (perhaps no Europe and Champions League) is acquiring somebody like Mata, the transfer fee could be justified. Going out in the Round of 16 last year, Manchester United made $46.8 million in Champions League revenue. If obtaining Mata also decreases the likelihood of a sell off that would preclude qualifying beyond 2013-14, the 25-year-old’s cost could be seen as a means to secure a financial end.

But that reasoning further underscores how much has changed in eight months. In May, Mata was an indispensable player for Chelsea. Now, his best use might be generating more room between Chelsea’s spending and the Financial Fair Play margins. And for Manchester United, they’ve gone from running away with the Premier League to pursuing players who can salvage their Champions League hopes. Unfortunately, those players are extremely expensive, with their scarcity meaning the Red Devils may have to line a rivals’ pockets.

Pep Guardiola praises Man City’s “animals”

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Pep Guardiola‘s Manchester City have set a new English top-flight record with 15 consecutive wins and, of course, comparisons are already being made as to just how good this City side are.

Runaway leaders of the Premier League with an 11-point lead heading into the busy festive period, City are being compared to the great teams in PL history.

Their winning run means they’ve accomplished something none of the other great PL teams have, and it seems like there is no stopping City.

Speaking to the media after the 4-0 win at Swansea on Wednesday which clinched the record, Guardiola praised his players for breaking the record but also their ability to not only excel when they have the ball but to hunt in packs to win it back.

“In history there have been some amazing teams – Liverpool, [Manchester] United with Sir Alex Ferguson, Chelsea with Jose Mourinho. A lot of good, good teams and we are the first ones to win 15 games in a row,” Mourinho said. “Of course that will not make sense if we do not win the title, if we don’t win the title it will just be a record. This record will be broken but it will not be easy. When (my players) don’t have the ball they go to win it like animals. At this level it’s so competitive. That means we are strong in the head.”

Guardiola’s team have made the best start in Premier League history to a season with 49 points from their opening 17 games and 16 wins from those matches.

They’ve scored 52 goals and the duo of David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne are controlling the tempo of each and every game they play in, but not much has been said about the tenacity in City’s play to win the ball back.

That quality has always been a hallmark of Guardiola’s teams at Barcelona and Bayern Munich with the fabled “six second rule” mentioned time and time again as he set his players a target of six seconds to win back possession of the ball.

City did that time and time again against Swansea on Wednesday with Silva regaining possession on multiple occasions in midfield and releasing the likes of Sterling and Sergio Aguero to attack.

There is a lot more behind this ruthless City side than just breaking winning and scoring records. Their extreme hunger for success and doing the dirty work was duly noted by Guardiola.

USSF says nominations submitted for 8 president candidates

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CHICAGO (AP) The U.S. Soccer Federation says it received the required three letters of nomination for eight candidates in its presidential election, one fewer than the total of people who announced their intention to run.

The USSF is conducting background checks on the candidates whose nominations were received by Tuesday night’s deadline. The governing body said the check is to ascertain that a candidate has “no conviction or no contest plea to a felony or crime of moral turpitude” and it will announce the candidate slate after completing the process.

[ MORE: Atlanta acquires Nagbe ]

Sunil Gulati, the USSF president since 2006, decided after the Americans failed to qualify for the World Cup that he will not seek a fourth four-year term.

The nine people who announced they are running include former men’s national team players Paul Caligiuri, Eric Wynalda and Kyle Martino; U.S. women’s goalkeeper Hope Solo; Soccer United Marketing president Kathy Carter; USSF vice president Carlos Cordeiro; Boston lawyer Steve Gans; New York lawyer Michael Winograd; and Paul LaPointe, Northeast Conference manager of the United Premier Soccer League.

The election will be held in February.

Madrid rallies to beat Al Jazira, reach Club World Cup final (video)

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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) Gareth Bale scored an 81st-minute winner as Real Madrid came from behind to beat Emirates club Al Jazira 2-1 on Wednesday and reach the Club World Cup final.

Madrid will try to win its third world title in four seasons when its faces South American champion Gremio on Saturday.

[ MORE: Premier League Weds. roundup ]

The match had two goals disallowed by video review, one for each team.

Madrid struggled early and allowed the local league winners to open the scoring with a goal by Brazilian forward Romarinho just before halftime.

But Cristiano Ronaldo equalized early in the second half and Bale netted the winner less than a minute after entering the match as a substitute for Karim Benzema.

Paul Clement admits helplessness at facing Man City

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Swansea City manager Paul Clement may have the enduring quote of the season so far when it comes to facing the behemoth that is Manchester City.

[ RECAP – City hammer Swansea ]

The suffering Swans have had their share of poor performances this season — Clement later said January transfer spending “is a must” if the club wants to stay up — but he’s throwing his hands up in the air when it comes to Wednesday’s loss at the Liberty Stadium.

The man sounds exasperated, and sorry for his team. From the BBC:

“At times it was horrible to be on the sideline watching that, seeing my side trying but suffering for long periods. They’re not the games that will decide our season but it was hard to watch at times because they were so dominant. For me, one of the best sides I’ve ever come across. So many good athletes, so many intelligent footballers and it’s really hard to pin them down. We actually had some attempts on their goal so I’m disappointed we didn’t get on the score sheet but they were a far superior side to us. We’ve got to put it aside that game. We’ve got Everton away (next) and we’ve got to try and pick something up there.”

All that’s left is for Clement to pick up a clarinet, awkwardly blow into it, then point at Pep Guardiola and say, “He’s good.”

Free message board points to the first one to name the reference.