Facts: 7 truths – Arsenal, Liverpool and Mata’s broken spirit
1. Chelsea didn't want Mata - so they crushed his spirit and threw him away
It's now a month since Christmas, and that lends Pitchside an alarmingly apt metaphor for Juan Mata - for he is a broken toy who has been thrown on the scrapheap before his time.
When a kid gets a fantastic present for Christmas, they play with it constantly, love it, cherish it and delight in its every trick for a while; then, at some point, something new comes along and they chuck it in the bottom of the toy box and forgot about it. Then, when they decide they want to play with it again, they take it out, notice that the batteries have run out, remember that they'd pulled one of the legs off last time they played with it, and end up chucking it back in the box, broken and unloved.
And that’s very much the career trajectory of Juan Mata at Chelsea, where he has been treated first so well, and then so badly, that there is a grave danger that his confidence might have been destroyed forever. This inordinately talented player was cast aside as Jose Mourinho decided to play with his new toys; and by the time the Blues boss decided to start giving him a chance again, months of torment and the resulting pressure to perform conspired to break him.
Chelsea have form in breaking players' spirit, of course, as Fernando Torres will tell you. And like Torres, it's very possible that Mata will never again reproduce the form that made him famous. The only difference is that this time round, Stamford Bridge chiefs have been savvy enough to sell their unwanted toy on to an unsuspecting neighbour as soon as they realised it was broken. Only time will tell if Manchester United's TLC, reassurance and a return to the limelight he so craves will be enough to recharge his batteries, fix up his spirit, and get him back to delighting us all once again with his brilliant tricks.
2. United's Mata conundrum could transform Moyes into the British Klopp
It's not often that a team who haven't played earn a spot in '7 truths', but developments at Old Trafford mean Manchester United became the big story of the weekend. David Moyes has started chucking the cash about and made a major statement with the signing of Chelsea benchwarmer Mata.But his arrival - even in the event that the gloomy premonition above proves unfounded - brings a problem. Where is the Spaniard going to play?Moyes’s favoured 4-4-1-1 system will surely continue to need Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie in the two attacking spots, and it’s been well documented that Mata is neither a winger nor a central midfielder.
What seems like the initially obvious solution - a 4-3-2-1 Christmas tree with both Rooney and Mata tucking in behind RVP - is actually a complete non-starter, since it would leave no place for United's player of the season (that's Adnan Januzaj, for those who've not been keeping up).
So that leaves the only realistic option as shifting to a 4-2-3-1 – a formation which would create the greatest disparity in Premier League history between the respective abilities of attack and defence.
An attacking foursome of RVP, Mata, Rooney and Januzaj would regularly bag three points regardless of the mess unfolding behind. And given that United's midfield has been pretty awful all season, why not just slash the headcount by half?
Such a gutsy tactical switch would have the lovely side benefit of instantly turning Moyes from one of the least-loved managers in the league to the coolest guy - Britain's answer to Juergen Klopp, if you will, and who wouldn't want to be that?
With 5-4 and 4-3 scorelines a regular occurrence, even City fans would be hard pushed not to develop a soft spot for United - particularly given the fact that United would no doubt end up on the wrong side of many of those potential seven-goal thrillers.
And sadly, that takes us back to the original problem: brilliantly entertaining kamikaze tactics simply would not be enough to guarantee a top-four spot, and with the financial well-being of MUFC PLC at stake it'll surely never happen. Not unless United pull out all the stops to fast-track a desperately-needed overhaul in defence and bring in a pressing midfielder who can bring back the fear-factor to the famous red shirt.
It’s time to dip into your wallet again, Mr Moyes; you have until 11pm on Friday.
3. Arsenal are quietly different - and winningly different
In 2013, they lost at The Emirates to second-tier Blackburn. In 2012, they lost to relegation-battlers Sunderland. In 2011, they needed an injury-time penalty to avoid losing to Leeds, squeaked past Huddersfield, needed a replay to beat Leyton Orient before going out against Manchester United. In 2010, they were outclassed by Stoke.
These are not exactly the sorts of performances you'd expect from a team trying to fight for Premier League and Champions League glory - but they're exactly the sorts of mediocre showings that Gunners fans came to expect in the last few years.
There are tougher times ahead, however, and not just in terms of their tough FA Cup last-16 match against Liverpool. The cup draw means they face a stretch next month which sees them play Liverpool twice as well as Manchester United and Bayern Munich in the space of 11 days.
In the past, that would have certainly marked the end of their season; this term, you'd fancy them to come out of it still looking like genuine trophy contenders on three fronts.
4. Liverpool have come a long way - but they've still got even further to go
Brendan Rodgers has done a superb job since taking the reins at Anfield, transforming a seemingly rudderless and chaotic Reds outfit into a bright, hungry and exciting side. But the weekend's action on and off the pitch popped their bubble on both fronts.
Just as telling, and far more worrying for Liverpool fans, is the ease with which Chelsea stole 'Egyptian Messi' Mohamed Salah from beneath Red noses. Salah had seemed dead-set on a move to Anfield until the Mata deal materialised, and it appears that a two-minute phone call from Jose Mourinho was more than enough to make all thoughts of life on Merseyside evaporate from the 21-year-old's mind.
5. It might only be January, but City are displaying their quadruple credentials
All this quadruple talk seems a touch silly given it’s only January, but they displayed a mental toughness often missing under Roberto Mancini as half-time substitute Vincent Kompany motivated his men to prevent a major upset and book an FA Cup last-16 date with Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea.
With the League Cup all but in the bag (apologies Sunderland fans), and City ticking along nicely in the other three competitions, it looks set to be a year to remember for the blue half of Manchester.
6. Non-league Kidderminster were the real winners against Sunderland
For 90 minutes, the 4,000-strong army of away fans cried out in unison while those few that bothered to turn out for the hosts huddled in their coats, voicing occasional frustration as their side struggled to breakdown a resolute Harriers backline. The defending was unconventional at times, but it just further endeared us to Kidderminster and reminded us that away from the world of five-figure pay cheques and never-ending simulation is a proper, courageous game that continues to inspire.
7. The greatest FA Cup draw ever is actually the worst-case scenario
The third and fourth round draws for the FA Cup threw up 48 games of football - and there was only one match-up in that whole list that drew anything other than an indifferent shrug from neutrals. That match, of course, was the Arsenal v Tottenham clash in the third round, which then had the insolence to turn into an underwhelming and one-sided encounter.
On reflection, however, it actually turns out to be one of the worst. Oh, don't get us wrong, it'll be fantastic to see the top four clubs fight it out in two knockout matches - but wouldn't you rather it was at the semi-final stage? Sunday's draw means that two of the country's best and most exciting teams will be missing from the quarter-finals of our premier domestic knock-out tournament. And that's a shame for everyone.
Ben Snowball / Toby Keel