Juan Mata is set to make his debut for Manchester United against Cardiff City on Tuesday and could be joined in the squad by the returning duo of Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie.
Mata was publically unveiled on Monday following his £37.1 million signing from Chelsea and David Moyes hopes to waste no time in throwing Mata into United’s quest to turnaround what has been a poor first season to date at Old Trafford for the former Everton boss.
“I’d like to get him involved if I can,” Moyes said.
Mata has trained with his new teammates, with the only thing potentially preventing him from starting at Old Trafford being a lack of match fitness due to not appearing for Chelsea since New Year’s Day. If selected, he may lineup alongside another man to have not featured since that date in Rooney. The forward has been absent with a groin strain, but Moyes has revealed that both he and Van Persie, along with Marouane Fellaini, have made a welcome return to training.
"It's a big night for Manchester United supporters," Moyes explained of the Premier League duel with Cardiff, according to the club’s official website. "Robin and Wayne have both trained today. We are hoping at some time to get them available for the game.”
Having been out since exacerbating a thigh injury in a Champions League match against Shakhtar Donetsk on Dec.10, Van Persie will, at most, likely begin on the bench. Indeed, with both Rooney and Van Persie aggravating existing niggles after playing 90 minutes on their return last time around, it might be expected that Moyes will take a more cautious approach with the pair.
Still, Tuesday could provide the first indication of how Moyes plans to incorporate Mata into a lineup also featuring Rooney and Van Persie. On the face of it, there appears no natural solution, leading some to question Manchester United’s breaking of their transfer record for Mata.
The 25-year-old is clearly at his best playing in the No. 10 role, a position where Rooney has operated with success this season, playing behind Van Persie. While Mata has played slightly wider for both club and country, Moyes’s tactics this season, with his wide men required to press and work up and down the touchline, would not ideally suit his qualities. The way that Moyes has struggled to get the best out of the similarly skilled Shinji Kagawa has reflected the kind of tactical rigidity that was one of the reasons Mata was exiled at Chelsea.
Still, Moyes may well have a solution in mind, and, certainly, Mata is eager to link up with Rooney.
"I can't wait to play alongside him," he said at his unveiling. "For me, he's one of the best players in the history of this country. He can score, he can assist and he can come deep to the midfield to take the ball.
"I think I'll enjoy playing alongside him. I'll try to connect with him as much as I can. I'll try to find gaps as I think that's my best kind of play - to try to assist the strikers."
United enter the match with struggling Cardiff badly in need of halting a poor run of form as they strive to close a six-point gap with Liverpool in the final Champions League place. Completing what will doubtless be an evening of anticipation for United fans will be the return to Old Trafford of former Champions League winning striker and now Cardiff manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.