• Mata, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie to face Stoke
• Moyes admits Dutch striker decides when he plays
David Moyes may start Robin van Persie, Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney for the first time against Stoke City on Saturday, with the Manchester United manager believing that they could become the Premier League's most formidable front three. Moyes admitted that he takes direction from Van Persie regarding when the forward feels in condition to play and for how long.
Mata, the club's record £37.1m signing, made his debut alongside Van Persie in Tuesday's 2-0 win over Cardiff City, with Rooney replacing the Dutchman during the second half. Both Van Persie and Rooney were making a first appearance following their respective injuries and, with Mata not yet at full sharpness, the manager is confident that once all three have had regular football they can be the finest trio in the league.
"I think they will be when we get them ready and totally match fit all of them and gelled together," he said. "We need to give Juan Mata time to settle in and not get too far ahead of ourselves too quickly. The one good thing is that because he has Premier League experience and being in the league and being at a big club, coming here should be a little easier. But we still have to be mindful that there is a change and we have to give him time for that to happen."
Moyes believes that Mata can play anywhere across the attacking three he fields in United's usual 4-2-3-1 shape. "Any one of the three I am comfortable to put him in. He did it for Chelsea and I can play him in any of those three roles," said the manager, who believes his big-name trio's ability to interchange positions with ease can bring a fluidity to United's play in the second part of the campaign. "Football is changing as the game goes on. Players change themselves," said Moyes. "There is a lot more movement especially with the forward players. They still have to play in a framework and from that framework you allow it to develop themselves."
With Michael Carrick, who had an ankle injury, and Marouane Fellaini, strained wrist ligaments, having recovered enough to be in contention for the trip to Stoke, Moyes has all of his senior players fit apart from Nani, whose hamstring problem is "serious" and may keep the winger out for a month.
Regarding taking Van Persie's direction about when the 30-year-old, who had been out since early December because of a thigh problem, feels he is fit enough to play, Moyes said: "I have taken Robin's advice on where he feels he is at, if he is ready to play and how long he feels he is able to play. All the things I am doing I am taking from Robin. He is a player who is so important to us. I need to know exactly where he is at."
Fellaini has not featured since the 1-0 defeat to Everton on 4 December at Old Trafford in what has been a difficult start to the midfielder's United career following his £27.5m summer move. "Fellaini has trained," said Moyes. "He is very close. I will probably include him in the squad. He is getting much closer. Injury has given [him] more of a chance to settle down, with not quite as much pressure on him to perform. He wasn't able to do a great deal of work in the opening two to three weeks because of the wrist but he has now picked up his running work and has been involved in the football for about a week now. He will play with protection on his wrist. It's a material one."
Moyes believes Fellaini can finally display his worth once fit. "We hope he will get opportunities to show what he can do. He will get chances to do that."
Rio Ferdinand is also available following a knee injury. "Rio is back training," said Moyes. "He is back. We will continue to use Rio at the right times and the right moments. Rio has made a great contribution especially in the first half of the season. I played him in nearly all the opening eight to 10 games. He was a big part in helping me to settle. He helped me get my feet under the table a little bit. He has competition for centre-half but he is very much valued and looked at as one of the senior players here."