Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini were David Moyes’ only signings at Manchester United… but they came to Jose Mourinho’s rescue again in incredible comeback against Juventus
- Manchester United won 2-1 at Juventus in the Champions League on Wednesday
- Juan Mata came off the bench to score a stunning free-kick equaliser for United
- Marouane Fellaini played a key role in the winning goal at the Allianz Stadium
This was the Italian Job, sparked by the man who was handed Mission Impossible.
Manchester United’s footballing heist stunned the Allianz Stadium on Wednesday night, but in a living room on the outskirts of Preston, one of the club’s former managers may have allowed himself a wry smile.
David Moyes, not Louis van Gaal or Jose Mourinho, was the man responsible for bringing the two men who turned it around to the club, the men who allowed the Portuguese to cup a hand behind his ear. Maybe Moyes, handed the poisoned chalice following the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson, felt like doing likewise.
Juan Mata (left) and Marouane Fellaini changed the game for Manchester United at Juventus
Mata produced a moment of magic as he curled in a free-kick away to equalise on Wednesday
Fellaini rose highest to win a header in the build-up to United’s winner at the Allianz Stadium
The impact of Juan Mata’s free-kick, and Marouane Fellaini’s wrecking ball impression for the winner, cannot be underestimated. United will now head into this weekend’s derby with a spring in their step. Mourinho brought both players off the bench with United a goal down and it will be viewed as a masterstroke. A reminder that aside from the whinging and skulduggery, this is a manager who still knows how to win the big games.
The heroes, however, were almost as unlikely as the comeback itself. There was a time when United fans dreaded seeing Fellaini being readied to come on. When social media fan boys would tweet simply: ‘Fellaini is warming up’, knowing full well the reaction it would prompt from fellow warriors of the keyboard variety.
That dread is now reserved for the opposition. How must they feel when the aggro afro emerges from the bench? Here comes trouble (and elbows).
Fellaini is not your average footballer. He is a throwback to a time when launching it forward was tiki taka. The chaos he creates, while old fashioned, is new to many of today’s defenders who simply cannot deal with it – even Juventus’s wily, brilliant duo of Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini, with 65 years between them.
The two midfielders were signed by David Moyes in his ill-fated stint as Old Trafford manager
Fellaini joined United in the summer of 2013 from Everton in a £27.5million deal
Moyes signed Mata from Chelsea for £37.1m in January 2014 – his last signing for the club
JUAN MATA’S UNITED CAREER TO DATE…
Games Played: 198
Games Started: 164
Mins/Goal Involvement: 192.1
Games Won: 115
Win %: 58.1%
MAROUANE FELLAINI’S UNITED CAREER…
Games Played: 168
Games Started: 102
Mins/Goal Involvement: 369.0
Games Won: 93
Win %: 55.4%
Fellaini’s effectiveness is also not lost on United fans. Mourinho has always valued his unorthodox impact, even if his style of play does not fit in with the club’s free-flowing traditions. Those who went to Italy, and made a racket all night long in a raucous sliver of stadium, are growing fond of the big Belgian. There is a realisation that there is a need for horses for courses. Do not expect to hear any booing again when Fellaini’s name is announced over the tannoy at Old Trafford. A contract extension in the summer is no longer being sniffed at. Fellaini is marmite, but at least now he has found an army of people who love, rather than hate him at a place where he often wondered if he would ever fit in.
None of this will be news to Moyes, who ferried Fellaini across from Everton and who also brought Mata in from Chelsea.
While they are little and large, there are similarities between the two players. For all his skill with the ball at his feet, rather than at his head, Mata has had trouble finding a role at United. He has often appeared to be a square peg in a round hole. This is the type of player who needs a team built around him, and at United that will never be the case. Regardless, we still get flashes of brilliance, including the free-kick that launched last night’s comeback.
Current United manager Jose Mourinho would’ve been grateful he could’ve called upon both
Following the game, the 30-year-old revealed that he is in talks about a new contract. While he may not be an expert at tracking back, or playing under rigorous rules of control, Mourinho is not daft.
None of this should make it sound like the current manager should not take credit. The Portuguese’s talent for reading a game and making substitutions at the right times has come back to the fore just when he needed it most.
That said, when he had stopped winding up Juventus fans, he may have found the time to reflect that one of his predecessors had actually helped to make life a little easier for him.
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