LVG impressed with Juan Mata

LONDON - 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.

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.

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. – Agencies

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