Manchester United manager David Moyes believes record signing Juan Mata can help fill the void left by Robin van Persie in the derby against Manchester City at Old Trafford on Tuesday.
Dutch striker Van Persie is set to miss six to eight weeks with a sprained knee and that could leave Spain midfielder Mata, who joined from Chelsea for £37.1 million (approximately R664 million) in January, playing a more central role.
Since his arrival Mata has mainly been employed in the right flank to enable Moyes to also accommodate Van Persie and Wayne Rooney.
Moyes has been pleased with Mata’s performances, particularly in the 2-0 win at West Ham on Saturday and expects him to make even more of an impact in the weeks ahead as faltering Premier League champions United, 11 points off fourth place, bid to derail the title challenge of third-placed City.
“There isn’t any club in Europe or the world who wouldn’t want Robin van Persie playing centre-forward for them and for us it’s a massive miss,” Moyes told a news conference on Monday.
“He changed the Champions League game (scoring a hat-trick in a 3-0 second leg win at Old Trafford before injuring himself as United secured a 3-2 aggregate last 16 victory over Greek side Olympiacos) with the goals he scored but I’ve got to say that Juan Mata came to play two or three different positions.
“I think that Juan’s come in and played very well on Saturday. He’s done well in all the games but on Saturday he was closer to scoring himself and maybe should have on a couple of occasions,” added Moyes of a victory where Rooney netted twice.
United were forced to use Michael Carrick at centre-back at the weekend due to the absence of Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling, Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand.
Moyes was coy on whether any of them will be available for the visit of City, although Ferdinand may return from a minor back problem.
The Scottish boss, in his first season in charge of United since succeeding retired compatriot Alex Ferguson, British football’s most successful manager, said he’d have no qualms about using Carrick in that role again and would also consider deploying left-back Patrice Evra, rested at the weekend, in a central role.
“(Carrick) did great in centre-half and I would have no problems. He has played there before so it wasn’t a problem. We even considered putting (Marouane) Fellaini back there, so we have people if we have to.
“We gave Pat Evra a rest and if we have to, we can put Pat there as well and he would cope manfully. It was great the squad mucked in.”
The 1-0 win over Arsenal at Old Trafford in November was the only time United have beaten a team in the Premier League’s top nine this season.
As United have struggled during former Everton manager Moyes’ first season in the Old Trafford hot seat, there have been question marks over a host of his players.
Vidic has confirmed he will be joining Inter Milan at the end of the season there are also doubts about the futures of Javier Hernandez, Nani, Ferdinand and a number of others.
But the United manager feels there has been a collective improvement by his side in recent weeks.
“I think in the last couple of games they’ve really stepped up to the plate and have performed. But I’m not surprised by that. That’s what they are capable of.
“We have a good squad and good players. We maybe haven’t played as well as we should. I do think we’ve got those capabilities in the squad.”