Manchester United latest: Angel Di Maria move no closer as Juan Mata emerges as Louis van Gaal's favoured No 10 as prospect of signing

The Spanish playmaker signed from Chelsea has made a big impression on the new Manchester United manager and can expect to play a key role in the season ahead

Denver

Louis van Gaal is understood to be deeply impressed by Juan Mata's football intelligence and technical ability and has made him his first choice No 10 for Manchester United.

Suggestions that the prospects of an Angel Di Maria move to United have improved are wide of the mark, with the club having no sense that his mooted transfer to PSG is in trouble.

But Mata has emerged as the foremost creative option. The Spaniard’s role at the club had seemed uncertain ever since he moved there last January and was promptly located on the right by David Moyes for his debut at Stoke City. It was in greater doubt when Ryan Giggs omitted him from the first line up of his own four games at the helm. Mata’s performance from the bench on that occasion, against Norwich City, underlined his professionalism.

Read more: Van Gaal denies problem with Zaha
Van Gaal resurrects Vidal interest
Di Maria to choose between United and PSG

Mata’s positive personality is of a kind that has always appealed to Van Gaal, who considers him to be a greater asset to United in the same position Rafael Benitez deployed him in, during his spell at Chelsea during the 2012/13 season. Mata will be the nexus of the fast, possession based football Van Gaal will look to take into next season. His contribution in the 3-2 win over AS Roma on Saturday was less substantial than in the 7-0 win over LA Galaxy – Mata later cited a dry pitch which made it play slow – though the way he took down Wayne Rooney’s sublime 30-yard pass with his left foot and despatching it in off the post with his right left the Dutch manager discussing the football brains of both players.

Angel Di Maria is among Manchester United's transfer targets Angel Di Maria is among Manchester United's transfer targets  

As encouraging for Van Gaal as Mata's is, his interaction and obvious affinity with his compatriot Ander Herrera had been less expected. Herrera’s ability intuitively to shift the ball fast and intricately created the penalty which Rooney converted for United’s third in 31C temperatures here.

The connection between Mata and Herrera goes back ten years - “he is a good guy; my friend and we have known each other since we were 15,” Mata said - though their combined roles in the 2011 Spain Under-21 team which demoralised Switzerland to take the Under-21 European Championship cemented the relationship. Herrera scored that night but his link-up play with Thiago Alcantara and Mata was fundamental. Only the presence of Xavi and Xabi Alonso has prevented Herrera stepping up to Vicente del Bosque’s first team. His part in the two halves of football he played last week suggests that United’s decision to hold out for a £5m better deal last year was ill-advised.

 

Herrera has impressed more than many had expected in United’s two tour games, demonstrating that he can comfortably operate slightly deeper, building the play and freeing up the No 10 role for Mata. He has that vision to know where his pass is going before he receives the ball that Van Gaal is looking for and has looked a tougher prospect than Mata, capable also of breaking up play. He is a tough character, too.

Read more: Report - United 3 Roma 2
Van Gaal must learn to live with tours
Smalling not faze by formation switch

The challenge will be for Danny Welbeck to maintain his part in the United front three. He has been sharp on this tour but Robin van Persie will walk back into the place Welbeck is holding. Tom Cleverley’s frustration at his own struggle to make an impression on Van Gaal at the Mile High Stadium seemed evident. It is three years since his pre-season performance against Barcelona in Washington DC. His career trajectory has changed.

Louis van Gaal during United’s 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy Louis van Gaal during United’s 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy  

“I think I can be [van Gaal’s] type of player," Cleverley said at the weekend. “I have to show that in training and most importantly in the games. I think there is a place for me. I have to prove that.” Early days, but the player who needs a change of fortune after the most difficult year imaginable has not yet found one.

Mata is not the type of individual to pour scorn on a previous manager but there was no doubting his delight in the decisiveness of Van Gaal. “We feel the manager is a great manager who has brought a strong mentality,” he said. “As a player you want a coach like this, always demanding more and to play better and try to win the games earlier or in a different way.” The opposition gets tougher this week – Inter Milan in Washington and Real Madrid in Ann Arbor, near Detroit. Van Gaal may be about to learn who else he can believe in.

Suggested Topics
News
Food blogger and Guardian writer Jack Monroe with her young son
people
News
people
News
peopleSinger tells The Independent what life is like in rehab in an exclusive video interview
Arts and Entertainment
booksPhotographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years - but he says it wasn’t all fun and games...
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Sport
Aguero - who single-handedly has kept City's Champions League dreams alive - celebrates his dramatic late winner
footballManchester City 3 Bayern Munich 2: Argentine's late hat-rick sees home side snatch vital victory
News
Muhammad Ali pictured in better health in 2006
peopleBut he has enjoyed publicity from his alleged near-death experience
Arts and Entertainment
Tony breaks into Ian Garrett's yacht and makes a shocking discovery
TVReview: Revelations continue to make this drama a tough watch
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
TV
News
The assumption that women are not as competent in leadership positions as men are leads to increased stress in the workplace
science... and it's down to gender stereotypes
Life and Style
The racy marketing to entice consumers to buy Fairlife, which launches in the US next month
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Inner sanctum: Tove Jansson and friends in her studio in 1992
booksWhat was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital