OpinionPaul McGrath

Silva lining in tie that won't Mata

Paul McGrathBy Paul McGrath
Silva lining in tie that won't Mata

It ought to have been one of the defining games of the Premier League season.

Instead, for me today’s United v City struggle in Manchester comes down to a chance to watch two super Spaniards, Juan Mata and David Silva, play at either end of the pitch.

After a bad start, United are coming on strong and surprising a lot of pundits, including me. I will admit that I said at the start of the season that the Red Devils would not make the top four at the end of this campaign.

In contrast, Man City are imploding and losing their way at a rapid rate.

So rapid that the future of the manager and several big-name players are now up for discussion.

Therefore, I’ll settle for watching these two wonderful players, safe in the knowledge that both clubs will be back in the Champions League next season

What a joy it must be for Spanish manager Vicente del Bosque to plan to work with Silva and Mata every time he has a game coming up.

I love the way the pair link up the play for their teams and the way they are still there to finish off moves with a goal of their own.

Silva is a wonderful player and has been one of the few bright sparks for Man City this season.

He has what I would call ‘old-school’ dribbling skills and has the confidence to use them whenever the chance arises.

To me he always looks like a young lad playing in the schoolyard with a tennis ball.

Silva’s crossing is of the highest quality too. Rarely do you see him swing in a ball that is knocked away by the first defender.

And his close-range passing is deadly in and around the opposition penalty area. He always seems to find his man.

If a rebuild does take place at the Etihad this summer, I’ll be amazed if Silva is one of those to leave the club. For me, he’d be a building block around whom to construct a bright future.

When it comes to big transfers, I was surprised when Chelsea sacrificed Mata 15 months ago in order to have the financial freedom to buy their target player last summer.

There were others I would have shed before losing Mata, but he just didn’t seem to hit it off with Jose Mourinho.

The Portuguese-born manager didn’t seem to have a role for Mata, and doubted that he tracked back enough for the Chelsea system.

In the circumstances, it was not a surprise to me that Chelsea agreed to sell him, but it did shock me that they agreed to move him on to Man United.

Top clubs don’t normally part with their finest assets to a big rival, but perhaps Chelsea had no other bidder and found themselves having to sell.

It took Mata time to settle in at Old Trafford, as it usually does when big players are transferred in the 
January window. It’s why so few top men actually move in that window.

But now we are really seeing the best of the Spaniard in a red shirt. He looks confident, is clearly enjoying his football and is linking up well with his team-mates, Wayne Rooney in particular.

Now if only Angel Di Maria could make progress in a similar vein.

Watching him for United of late, it is not like watching the class act who wore Real Madrid and Argentina’s colours last year.

He has lost confidence and nothing seems to be working for the lad. He is better than this, much better, and it is a big job for Louis van Gaal to turn Di Maria’s Manchester United career around.

Otherwise it is £57million down the drain, and not even United can write off that sort of money. 

Van Gaal is up to that task, though, as he is  about the whole job of leading this famous club.

I’ve been impressed by the way the Dutchman has handled himself, particularly two months ago, when all was not sweetness and light for the club.

He had the ego, the personal belief and the determination to tell everyone, ‘no problem, it will come right’. And it has!