Chelsea's Juan Mata reacts during their game against Swindon Town in their English League Cup soccer match at the County Ground in Swindon

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

1 Comment

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.

El Clasico: Ramos’ 90th minute equalizer leaves Real, Barca level (video)

BARCELONA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 03:  Luis Suarez (2nd L) of FC Barcelona and Sergio Ramos (L) of Real Madrid CF fight for the ball during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF at Camp Nou stadium on December 3, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Real Madrid’s six-point table lead over Barcelona remains thanks to Sergio Ramos’ heroics near both goal lines, as La Liga’s leaders came back to draw 1-1 at Camp Nou on Saturday in the first El Clasico of the season.

Luis Suarez gave Barca a second-half lead only to see Ramos claw one back and then save a goal at the death.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

It’s no surprise that Ronaldo was lively, and one of his two shots saved by Ter Stegen after a clever dribble inside the 18.

Messi had a moment, too, his free kick dipping around the wall but into the waiting arms of Keylor Navas.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

A careful Messi dribble ended with a lofted ball that Luis Suarez chose to trap rather than volley, and Real Madrid killed the chance for a corner kick.

Suarez put Barca up off Neymar’s arrow of a free kick, slightly redirecting the tight-angle shot with his head.

Neymar nearly made it 2-0 in the 68th minute, dribbling through Real’s right side before sailing a shot over Navas and the goal.

Andres Iniesta sprung Messi through in the 82nd minute, but the Argentine dragged his shot wide of goal.

The chances came late for Real, with Sergio Ramos heading a corner just over a leaping Ter Stegen… and the bar. Then Jordi Alba cleared Ronaldo’s in-tight header off the line after Marcelo’s terrific cross.

The equalizer came in the 90th minute, as Ramos rose high to head his chance off a diving Ter Stegen and into the goal. Barca answered with a chance of their own, but Ramos cleared the chance off the line.

Follow @NicholasMendola

West Brom 3-1 Watford: Baggies ruthless against 10-man Hornets

WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 03:  Jonny Evans of West Bromwich Albion heads to score the opening goal during the Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion and Watford at The Hawthorns on December 3, 2016 in West Bromwich, England.  (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment
  • Evans, Brunt, Phillips score
  • Kabasele got Hornets back in it
  • Pereyra sent off late on 
  • West Brom unbeaten in four

West Brom beat 10-man Watford 3-1 at the Hawthorns on Saturday to continue their good form as Tony Pulis‘ side push towards the top six.

The Baggies went 2-0 up in the first half through Jonny Evans‘ header and then Chris Brunt‘s low free kick found the back of the net. Watford had some hope in the second half as Christian Kabasele made it 2-1 but after Roberto Pereyra was sent off the Hornets’ chances of a comeback were all but over and Matt Phillips scored late on to seal the win.

With the victory West Brom moves on to 20 points and leapfrog Watford in the table, who stay on 18.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

The Baggies got off to a flying start at home as Brunt’s corner was met with a towering header by Evans at the back post to put them 1-0 up in the 16th minute.

West Brom then sat back for the rest of the first half, with Watford doing most of the pressing but coming up against a stubborn Baggies rearguard.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Then came the sucker-punch.

Brunt doubled West Brom’s lead before the break as his free kick from 25-yards out took a deflection off Juan Zuniga and hit the back of the net. 2-0 and Watford were in a hole.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Watford came out fighting in the second half with Troy Deeney meeting a cross from the right but his shot was blocked by Gareth McAuley.

Soon Watford did pull one back as Ben Forster made a great save as McAuley’s header looped towards his own goal and from the resulting corner the ball was slotted home by Kabasele. 2-1. Game on.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Watford’s quest for an equalizer was hampered late on as Pereyra was sent off for reacting to a challenge by James McClean with plenty of players from both teams getting involved.

And the game was put beyond doubt in the closing stages as Phillips cut in off the right flank and drilled a low left-footed shot home. 3-1.

Sunderland 2-1 Leicester City: Black Cats buzzing, Luck running out for Leicester

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 03: Robert Huth (2nd L) of Leicester City shows his dejection after conceding the own goal during the Premier League match between Sunderland and Leicester City at Stadium of Light on December 3, 2016 in Sunderland, England.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
Leave a comment
  • Black Cats up to 18th
  • Own goal, Defoe the markers
  • Leicester two points clear of drop
  • Okazaki pulls one back

Sunderland looked left for dead; Now the Northeast club’s Premier League survival hopes very much alive.

The Black Cats knocked off Leicester City for a third win in four games, kicking the Foxes firmly into the relegation mix after a 2-1 match at the Stadium of Light on Saturday.

Jan Kirchhoff hit the header than turned into a Robert Huth own goal, making a much-needed return to the Sunderland side.

Demarai Gray found Shinji Okazaki to make it 2-1 with 12 minutes to play.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Victor Anichebe is a striker in form, barely missing with an early laser before seeing a sure goal deflected away from goal to set up a fifth minute corner. The hosts were humming at the Stadium of Light.

Anichebe had a shout for a penalty in the 14th minute while Wes Morgan jostled with him in the box, but his cries were unheard and the big man didn’t go down.

Scary before the break, as Marc Albrighton and with Black Cats midfielder Steven Pienaar came together in an inadvertant collission. Pienaar was left the worse for it.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Islam Slimani didn’t see a seeing-eye pass through the 18 before it struck his shin, and Sunderland dodged an early bullet.

But oh boy. Kirchhoff won a free header by beating Huth to a corner kick, and his effort hit the defender on the way into the goal.

Defoe buttressed the lead with a fine goal, and it was one Sunderland would need following Okazaki’s finish.

Young goalkeeper Jordan Pickford got the job done for the Black Cats down the stretch, and Moyes can puff out his chest for yet another week after a miserable start to the season.

Follow @NicholasMendola

Stoke City 2-0 Burnley: Hughes’ go top half with win

STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 03:  Jonathan Walters (2nd L) of Stoke City celebrates scoring his team's first goal with his team mates during the Premier League match between Stoke City and Burnley at Bet365 Stadium on December 3, 2016 in Stoke on Trent, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Leave a comment
  • Walters lashes home
  • Muniesa nabs first PL goal
  • Clarets sink 14th

Jonathan Walters and Marc Muniesa scored as Stoke City continued to make its early season woes a thing of the past in a 2-0 win over visiting Burnley on Saturday at the Britannia Stadium.

The loss leaves Burnley just three points above the drop zone, while Stoke arrives in the top half with 19 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Burnley had the ball in the early stages, but Bruno Martins Indi provided the first bit of true danger when the Stoke back headed the ball off the woodwork.

Tom Heaton missed the game through injury, but he wouldn’t have made a difference on Walters’ opener. The Stoke man belted a Mame Biram Diouf cross behind Paul Robinson to give the Potters a 20th minute lead.

Muniesa scooped up his first PL goal before halftime when Marko Arnautovic provided good service and the ex-Barca man didn’t mess up his lines.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Follow @NicholasMendola