The former Everton boss has seen his side fall well-behind in the title race, languishing lowly in mid-table for the first time in ages. They’ve regularly dropped points at Old Trafford, which has become something of a rarity over the years in the fortress that was the Theatre of Dreams. He’s also seen them crash out of the FA Cup and now the League Cup, this time to lowly Sunderland. One could see them facing a similar fate in the Champions League, too. So while Moyes finally won his long-awaited first managerial trophy in last summer’s Charity Shield, I hardly think he or the board will be pleased with the measly trophy count of one they’re likely to end the season with.
Holes are noticeable all over the squad, particularly across the back line and in the middle of the park. Center back looks a major concern with Vidić likely to leave in the summer, Rio past it and neither of Johnny Evans, Chris Smalling or Phil Jones locking down the spots. They’ve also clearly needed an engine to drive the side from central midfield for quite some time. And Moyes either doesn’t want Kagawa to be that guy, or doesn’t think he’s capable of doing the job adequately.
So word of Juan Mata coming over from Chelsea in a club-record deal would absolutely one way to fill the later of those two prominent holes. But the move itself is very puzzling.
Why would Chelsea help a rival like that? How could they put themselves in that position?
In the short-term, this isn’t really a move that can hurt Chelsea. They’ve already played United twice and have little chance of meeting them again. So there’s little chance to for Johnny Killer — a literal translation of his name, by the way — to rain down angry retribution on his previous employers. United have almost zero chance of catching Chelsea at this point either, so it’s not like they’re even a rival to Chelsea at the moment.
Hell, a conspiracist’s argument could even be made that his being sent there to might even help the Blues. A Mata-powered United would arguably be more likely to take points off Arsenal and Manchester City, right? That’s definitely something Chelsea would in fancy in this steadily intensifying title race.
Can’t you just imagine José and Roman having a giggle as they take United’s £37 million check in exchange for such a sympathetic gesture to a struggling rival? It’s such a vivid image that I could paint the scene if you gave me a brush.
The problem with that line of thinking though — supposing it is the reason they sold him on to the Mancs — is that United’s struggles are currently only restricted to this season. There’s no guarantee that they’ll face similar troubles next season.
As easy as it was to imagine Chelsea’s bosses thinking they’d pulled one over on a hapless foe, it’s also just as easy to picture United now having a great young player to rebuild their side around under Moyes. Think about it: Juan Mata teeing up a front two of Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney. That’s potentially lethal. Assuming all are healthy and none of the departs, of course.
Mata’s arrival could even free up the sputtering Maroune Fellaini to play less a less effective creator role and focus on his more preferred destroyer role. Add a few more pieces in the summer, and you could be talking about an almost completely retooled United side. And Mata is the class of player to be the foundation to rebuild upon.
So while Chelsea may not be worried at all about selling Mata to Manchester United this season, I can’t imagine they’re so shortsighted as to not realize they should be worried about selling Mata to Manchester United now for next season.
Of course, this is supposing that Moyes is capable of making all of these puzzle pieces fit. His struggles to get this United side firing on full cylinders this season — even though it’s effectively the same one that won the title last year with a record points gap — is surely enough to question whether he has the stones to fully remake the team in his image. And will signing a player like Mata be enough to galvanize other big names to make the jump to Old Trafford, too? How the rest of this season plays out will likely go a long way to giving us that answer.
Still though, from a Chelsea perspective anyway, is a shot at the title in the short-term worth that kind of a long-term gamble? Mourinho and Chelsea seem to think so.
And even if it proves the wrong choice, they still have £37 million to wipe their tears with.