Manchester United are monitoring Juan Mata’s uncertain situation with a view to a January bid, but Chelsea sources maintain the playmaker would only be sold to a La Liga club or Paris Saint-Germain.
Mata’s future at Stamford Bridge has been in doubt since the summer, and manager Jose Mourinho only sparked further speculation after the 3-0 win over Southampton by admitting the 25-year-old could leave the club.
“The club door is open too,” Mourinho said. “So when a player wants to speak with us we are there waiting for them. But if you ask me do I want to sell him, I don’t want to.”
Despite Mourinho’s equivocation, the Portuguese’s comments mark a conspicuous shift from his public stance on the player’s future in August, when he categorically insisted Mata was not for sale.
It was at that point United’s interest was first piqued, as informal enquiries for the Spain international were made. That move fizzled out alongside Wayne Rooney’s mooted transfer to Stamford Bridge, but Old Trafford sources maintain they may be able to force the situation given Mata’s own unhappiness.
For that to happen, however, it would likely require the playmaker himself to make an express effort to join United himself -- and even then it would appear unlikely.
If Chelsea do want to sell, they have huge interest from both PSG and a number of Spanish clubs -- one believed to be Atletico Madrid -- and would clearly prefer Mata going to either of those options rather than a main Premier League rival.
Mata’s future may also depend on how insistent Mourinho is on strengthening his squad in this window, especially given Chelsea’s reported 49.4 million pound loss for the year to June 2013.
Stamford Bridge scouts have been on an extensive search for “the right central midfielder” since September, while the manager retains interest in both Fredy Guarin of Inter Milan and Real Madrid’s Xabi Alonso, as well as keeping the option open of bringing in another striker.
Depending on the extent of such moves, Chelsea may be forced to sell a player of Mata's value in order to generate sufficient finance.
Mata at this point represents United’s highest-profile January target, in a window that will not necessarily see any abandon despite the club’s league position. Manager David Moyes does want to strengthen in both the problematic midfield area and at left back, but the club do not want to be too hasty or held hostage by large asking prices.
United have a growing interest in Southampton’s Adam Lallana, while Moyes has admired Yohan Cabaye of Newcastle United for some time.
Lallana’s teammate Luke Shaw is seen as more difficult to purchase given his own willingness to move to Chelsea in the future, and a recent confidence that Leighton Baines would finally arrive at Old Trafford this January has since been somewhat checked. Everton would not allow an easy negotiation, and the left-back himself has never wanted to force a move.
The English player's stance has been further influenced by the progress Everton have made under Roberto Martinez since last summer, although United sources believe a potential deal “is not dead”.
Moyes has also been scouting Koke of Atletico Madrid and Porto’s Eliaquim Mangala, but the club do not want to rush into any deal.