Tuesday night brought some pretty big news in the football universe: Chelsea and Manchester United are reportedly in talks regarding Juan Mata, with a £40 million fee being reported as a "provisional agreement" between the two sides according to the Guardian.
This deal is huge, and not just for Chelsea and United. There are implications that could shake up the whole EPL, including Liverpool. While any deal is far from done (things apparently hinge on Mata requesting to be let go), it's not too soon to look at just what sort of impact this transfer could have.
Chelsea: Common speculation has had Chelsea as staring down the barrel of Financial Fair Play regulations ever since they reported a massive operating loss in the last reporting period. With their purchases over the summer plus last week's Nemanja Matic signing, Chelsea are running at a £64.5 million deficit in transfer dealings (per transfermarkt) this season, which had to have them feeling uncomfortable, even with the financial boon of making the Champions League knockout stages padding things a bit.
While Chelsea probably could have been OK without making further moves (they receive ludicrous sponsorship revenue), they might not have been able to make further moves in this transfer window without a significant sale. With further needs to be addressed and Mata inexplicably having fallen out of favor under Jose Mourinho, it made too much sense for something not to happen. While Chelsea certainly would have preferred to not sell Mata to a rival, the only other clear fit (Paris Saint-Germain) is probably in even worse shape as far as FFP is concerned, they didn't have much choice if they wanted to unload the Spaniard for a healthy fee.
With a non-starting player offloaded and cash in the coffers, Chelsea would then be free to pursue further purchases to strengthen their squad, potentially including an actually competent striker to rotate with Samuel Eto'o (likely resulting in a loan or sale of Demba Ba) as well as a youngish center back better than Gary Cahill who could help ease the eventual loss of a resurgent John Terry. Such additions would go a long ways towards solidifying Chelsea's status as a title contender this season, and if the right purchases are made could see them becoming a true terror over the next few seasons.
Manchester United: As the recipients of a bonafide star, the immediate impact here is obvious: United's squad would get a whole lot better. Mata would instantly become one of United's best players, and his arrival would usurp the playing time of Antonio Valencia and Shinji Kagawa (potentially leading to the sale of both players as well, which would help United balance the deal from an FFP perspective). Such news would be welcome to United fans, who have largely had both Valencia and Kagawa firmly atop their "useless players" list all season.
Mata would also make United's lineup much harder to deal with. With Robin Van Persie up top ahead of a first-choice attacking midfield band of Mata, Wayne Rooney, and Adnan Januzaj, United would be tough to predict and have several players equally capable of creating or finishing. With that added to some recent solidity in midfield, United would quickly become a force to be reckoned with in the league, and the six points between them and fourth place could quickly evaporate.
This one deal, while expensive, could very easily be the difference between United making the Champions League next season or not. That's a terrifying prospect to behold.
Liverpool: Yikes. Liverpool have largely over-achieved this season, but if this move happens, the pressure to stay up in the top four will be squarely on their shoulders. They're already tied on points with Tottenham and have Everton breathing down their necks just one point back, so a suddenly-scary United side would make the challenge to stay in fourth nearly insurmountable.
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This could easily incite the club's leadership to make one or more "panic" buys to try and keep pace, probably first focusing on an attacking upgrade and then turning to deeper in the midfield. While that might be an attractive prospect for Liverpool fans to think on, consider this: Financial Fair Play is a thing now, both in Europe and in England. It's actually quite likely that the reason Liverpool hasn't made a big splash in this transfer window is that they don't want to take the risk of falling out of compliance if they fail to make the Champions league this year and miss out of the huge revenues it brings. If they spend big money on a couple of players and fall short, that could have strongly negative repercussions on the club over the next few years, causing them to sell players they'd otherwise be able to keep if those panic moves had never been made.
There's also the fun possibility that Chelsea could recall Victor Moses to help maintain their numbers in the attacking midfield band. While Moses has been underwhelming this season, losing the Nigerian would necessitate some kind of transfer for a winger to maintain depth if nothing else.
The cold, sad reality is that if Manchester United buys Juan Mata, that would likely ring the death knell on Liverpool's top four dreams for this year. Not only would United be stronger, but it would force other clubs to upgrade as well if they want to keep pace.
Rest Of The League: Speaking of other clubs, Tottenham and Everton would be sweating bullets if this deal happens. Tottenham have been resurgent since Tim Sherwood took the reigns from Andre Villas-Boas, but this would put them and their improvement squarely under the gun. Like Liverpool, they may feel the pressure to splash out on another transfer in order to "keep up". Unlike Liverpool, they can probably afford the risk, as they're actually running at a slight net profit on their transfer dealings this season despite their massive expenditure (thanks, Gareth Bale!).
Everton are in a strange combination of the situations of Tottenham and Liverpool. Like Liverpool, Everton has overachieved this season, and probably to a greater degree given the relative strength of their squad. They've also got a decent net profit in their transfer dealings, meaning they they could reinforce their squad if they decide to go for it. That seems likely especially given how heavily reliant on loaned players they are, even without the rumored Lacina Traore loan having been completed yet.
Then there's Newcastle, who sit a point behind United in the table. They've shown a willingness to spend big in January in recent years, and if they feel they still have a shot if they bulk up their squad they could become an interesting player. Of course, Mike Ashley could just as easily decide to blow the whole thing up, in which case they have some assets who could be very valuable to the other EPL contenders.
All things considered, this could be the single most impactful transfer within the EPL that we've seen in some time. We could see the title race, top four race, and fortunes of several clubs impacted by it once everything is said and done, which is not something you can often say for a single transfer. If this deal pans out, the last week of the transfer window will be something to behold, and then a ride to the finish line that was already shaping up to be a white-knuckle affair could become straight-up insane. Hold on to your butts.