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  • Oct 31, 2014
  • Updated: 8:52pm
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PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 January, 2014, 10:43pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 January, 2014, 12:47am

United have bought themselves a bargain by signing Mata

Midfielder has strong resale value and is a proven performer in the Premier League

BIO

Nick has been SCMP’s tipster since soccer betting was launched in Hong Kong in 2003, having previously served as racing editor. He takes a statistical approach to soccer betting, focusing mainly on the English Premier League but also on the other major European leagues and the English lower divisions. Now based in England, he brings a wealth of experience as a punter and writer having also worked for the Sunday Times, Racing Post and Betfair during a 25-year career in sports betting journalism.
 

Manchester United clearly have needed something more this season, and in their £37 million (HK$477 million) signing of midfielder Juan Mata, they have got a lot. Whether that will be enough to save their season, and possibly David Moyes' job, remains open to debate but United could not have bought anyone who is better in his position and, crucially, proven in the English Premier League.

At the age of 25, Mata fits into United's policy under the Glazer family ownership of buying players before they reach their late twenties and become depreciating assets in monetary terms, as well as possibly on the pitch. Robin Van Persie, bought at the age of 29 for £24 million, is the only major purchase that has not fallen into that category in recent years.

Mata was to undergo a medical examination late on Friday before confirmation of the move. Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said: "We are convinced he is going to do well. If Man United pays their record for a player, it's because they know exactly what they want from him. And they know exactly what he can give them."

Compared with the £50 million Chelsea paid for the near 27-year-old Fernando Torres in the January transfer window three years ago, United have got themselves a bargain. Mata will retain a resale value for longer than Torres and, more importantly, his playing stats remain among the best in the Premier League.

Two misconceptions should be laid to rest. First, Mata is not a Chelsea reject; plain and simple, he did not fit Mourinho's system. Mesut Ozil felt he would be in a similar situation at Real Madrid under new boss Carlo Ancelotti and chose to move to Arsenal, and there have been countless other examples of supposed "misfits" becoming Premier League stars, notably Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp.

The second misconception about Mata is that his physique - 1.7 metres tall and weighing 64kg - makes him lightweight and prone to drifting out of games. Unlike many imports, however, he was quick to adapt to the Premier League and he was a consistent influence on results throughout his first two seasons in English football.

Mata scored within 25 minutes of his introduction to the Premier League but his assists were the most striking feature of his first season. He had 13 assists in 29 Premier League starts, along with five goals, and was Chelsea's player of the year. Only Manchester City's David Silva - a similar player to Mata - and United's Luis Valencia had more assists. If there was a doubt about Mata at the end of that first season, it was whether he was influential enough in the major Premier League games, as he failed to register a goal or an assist in six of his eight starts against teams in the big six.

But that contrasted sharply with his contribution to Chelsea's Champions League and FA Cup triumphs. His corner was the assist for Chelsea's goal in the Champions League final and in the FA Cup he had two assists in the 5-1 semi-final win over Tottenham (he also scored the second goal, but it should not have stood) and his perfectly weighted pass set up Ramires for the opener in the final, with Chelsea beating Liverpool 2-1 and Mata named man of the match.

Mata was even better in his second season with Chelsea - 12 goals and 12 assists in 30 Premier League starts - and this time there was no doubt he could handle the big occasion in the Premier League. He started all 10 of Chelsea's big-six clashes and had a goal or assist in seven of them (six goals and four assists in total), scoring in all four of Chelsea's wins in that category.

The big tests for Mata and United will come later and Tuesday's Premier League home game against Cardiff should be straightforward. Mata is highly effective in this type of game (last season he averaged a goal or an assist in virtually every match against bottom-half sides) and he could well have an impact on United's ability to cover the handicap by winning more regularly by wide margins.

In this weekend's FA Cup ties, Cardiff and Crystal Palace catch the eye as handicap bets away to Championship sides. The team sheets will need checking, but both managers may line up strong sides as they try to build momentum for the relegation battle.

Tony Pulis always took the FA Cup seriously with Stoke, while this is an opportunity for new Cardiff boss Ole Gunnar Solksjaer to find his best side.

Brighton, away to Port Vale from a lower division, also stand out.

Crystal Palace, Cardiff, Brighton, Walsall, Swindon, Leverkusen, Schalke.

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