Chelsea Focus - What is Mata's role under Mourinho?
Much of Jose Mourinho's summer was spent slapping back suggestions that some of his star players were to be shipped out in an attempt to stamp his authority on Chelsea once again. But there were no major departures, as the manager had always insisted there wouldn’t be, meaning the immediate future of players like Juan Mata is in SW6.
The ex-Valencia playmaker has been underused in the opening weeks of the campaign, with the Blues pointing to his lack of match fitness after picking up a thigh injury during pre-season. But despite that justification, speculation over the future of the diminutive Spaniard has remained rife, with the manager allegedly sceptical of his suitability within a Mourinho team.
Without exception, the Portuguese has opted for his teams to be extremely fluid both going forwards and backwards. That goes for everyone; even his midfield playmakers must demonstrate a great work ethic and grit to battle for the team in both halves. At Inter, Wesley Sneijder wasn't excused from his defensive duties, while the same went for Real Madrid's Mesut Ozil and Porto's Deco.
Therefore, Mourinho - rightly or wrongly - may well have reservations about Mata's ability to track back and do the dirty work in addition to his wizardry. Hence why he has decided to draft in the likes of Andre Schurrle and Willian - though the latter's ability to put in a shift defensively for his team is similarly arguable.
Regardless of defensive talk, Mata must still have a role to play at Chelsea. A dispensable footballer does not win the club's Player of the Year award twice in a row, for example. Since switching to the Premier League, Mata has consistently been the Blues' most reliable performer, not only creating and scoring goals but bringing out the best in his fellow attackers.
As well as that, despite the enormous investment in Chelsea's attacking lines, Mata remains the only left-footer. There's plenty of variety at Stamford Bridge at the moment but the presence of a left-footed midfielder - forgetting about Mata's technical ability for a moment - should not be underestimated on its own.
Mourinho will appreciate that, having utilised Goran Pandev, Angel di Maria and Deco in his regular starting line-ups at his other clubs. Balance is vital.
Now it seems like Mata's injury worries are behind him, and he's ready to participate fully in Chelsea's season. He told Chelsea TV: “I had four weeks off [ahead of pre-season training] and to be honest that's too much time for me, because in the last five or six years I didn't have this sort of rest. But I've had plenty of rest and now I'm feeling really good. The best thing for me is to play because I love to play.”
It will now be interesting to see whether Mata features when the Blues return to league action against Everton at Goodison Park next weekend. At a stadium where Chelsea have won just once since 2008, his guile and ingenuity could prove crucial and persuade his manager to trust him.
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