To be honest, up until last night, I had my head firmly buried in the sand when it came to Chelsea’s exclusion of Juan Mata, so far this season. The player hardly had a pre-season and confessed to having muscle problems, writing for his blog last week, and so one way or another I’d manage to rationalise Mourinho’s decisions not to start him. After the manager’s comments before and after Saturday’s win over Fulham however, that’s obviously no longer possible. We have a problem with Juan Mata – it’s time to consider it seriously.
To preface my opinion on the issue, I’m going to outline some facts – Rafa Benitez style. Mata is exceptional. Fact. He is the best pure #10 in the history of the Premier League. Fact. He is Chelsea’s most talented player by an absolute mile. Fact. He may well even be the most talented player to have ever represented Chelsea FC – not a fact, but a decent shout.
There are some less flattering facts that also must be taken into account however. And they are that Mata isn’t an especially hard worker off the ball. His defensive contributions to games are barely noticeable. He often goes missing in big matches. His best football over the past two seasons has almost exclusively been delivered when the team has been deliberately structured to provide him with as much space as possible. And with the side based around him, the last two seasons have yielded two of our worst points totals since 2003.
Ultimately it comes down to this – that Mata is exceptional cannot be called into question; whether Mata is good enough for a side with the objectives of Chelsea to be shaped around almost entirely, is a much tougher question, and one to which Mourinho has already decided that the answer is ‘no’. And I am inclined to agree. His goal and assist stats last year were amazing but still, I think it’s completely unrealistic to be relying on Mata to singlehandedly win the majority of our matches, the way Ronaldo and Messi do in Spain. I think with the standard of competition we currently face, both domestically and in Europe, if this Chelsea side are to win major trophies then we need to play far more like a team than we have been doing for the last two years, where our dependence on the brilliance of Mata has been much, much too extreme. We’re simply too good and too big a club to be so reliant on one player.
Elsewhere, I think it’s worth re-emphasing that Mourinho’s fondness of Oscar in the #10 position couldn’t be easier to understand. The amalgamation of his work rate, selflessness and creativity make the young Brazilian unique. From a tactical sense, his skill set makes him practically the perfect #10 in a solid, counter attacking 4-2-3-1 formation. From a creative point of view admittedly, he isn’t in the same league as Mata, but in every other department, I think he offers the side more than his Spanish teammate.
It isn’t however, as though Mata is in a situation where he is in direct competition with Oscar for a place in the side. There is obviously a place for both in the starting line-up; Mourinho even admitted after the Fulham game that for Mata and Oscar to be starting each game together is the ultimate ideal. To me this implies that for now at least, Jose has faith in both his own ability to mould players and in the professionalism of Mata, for the required changes to his game to be made. The fact Mata hasn’t come out against the coach or the club would also indicate that he’s willing to work on his game.
I understand completely why so many fans are upset/angry with the situation and find Jose’s treatment of the player unacceptable. I would challenge these supporters however to be honest with themselves and realise that a hard working, more versatile and defensively aware Juan Mata would be a much greater asset than the pure creator who’s solely defined our style of play since his purchase. Anyway, if he’s as good as we all think he is, he’ll surely adapt and find his way back into the XI in no time. And whether you agree with Mourinho or not, to select Mata today would’ve been incredibly easy to do – but he made the decision to leave out a player he felt unsuitable to his style and system because he thought it was the right thing to do. Which to some extent, even the most die-hard Juan Mata fans have to commend.