Juan Mata has emerged as “a very important player” at Manchester United, says Gary Neville, with the Spaniard capable of being the “glue” which holds Jose Mourinho’s side together.
The Red Devils have enjoyed a productive 2017-18 campaign, but they have not always been as consistent as they would like.
Mourinho has also faced accusations of being overly defensive at times, with United considered to place too much emphasis on keeping things tight and not enough on working through the lines.
Mata, though, is being billed as the man to aid that cause, with the World Cup winner seen as a playmaker who can allow others to flourish by linking midfield and attack.
Former Red Devils defender Neville told his podcast for Sky Sports: "There’s signs in the last two games that there’s a team there and Juan Mata’s become more important to connect the team.
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"It looks like you’ve got [Marcus] Rashford, [Anthony] Martial, [Romelu] Lukaku but they haven’t got that glue that just knits it together. Mata looks like he might become a very important player.
"Michael Carrick, [Paul] Pogba has sort of got the ability to connect back to front but Mata certainly has got the composure to hold the ball and allow those players to make their runs so they can get up the pitch and get into a point where they can play one-on-one.
"They need to be one-on-one. You see with Rashford [against Liverpool], [Alexis] Sanchez, Lukaku. Get them one-on-one around the edge of the box, they are probably as good as you are going to get
"However, to get the ball into those situations, as many times as possible with quality, you need someone to put the ball there to them and Mata does that really well.”
Rashford produced a match-winning performance for United in their latest outing against Liverpool, as he celebrated his return to Mourinho’s starting XI with a brace in a 2-1 win.
The England international rightly dominated the headlines on the back of that display, but Mata put in another workmanlike performance to help the Red Devils to all three points – with his afternoon almost topped off by another spectacular bicycle kick against old adversaries.
United will be looking for him to keep things ticking over in the coming weeks, with important fixtures across the Champions League, FA Cup and Premier League approaching.