Blog by: Tanya
After not handing starting places to Juan Mata for much of the season so far, many assumed it was the playmaker’s injury which was behind the omission. But when the team line-up against Basel appeared in front of all of us, it seemed as if Mourinho just doesn’t fancy him.
If there was one thing that Andre Villas-Boas got right during his short six-month stint with Chelsea, it was signing Juan Mata from Valencia. He observed a striking similarity between the Chelsea great Gianfranco Zola and Mata. Both were creative playmakers, diminutive yet immensely apt to change the course of the game positively for their team.
The departure of the Italian maestro Zola, back in 2003, left Chelsea searching for the next generation of a creative midfielder. Then, came along Mourinho, and his cosmic quest for trophies became the only talking point during his tenure.
Chelsea had soon forgotten the need for a replacement for Zola, until Abramovich reminded them that he wanted his club to be the emblem of beautiful football. Precisely which Andre Villas-Boas was brought in for. He at least tried, albeit failing horribly, not sooner than signing the creative Mata.
Come to the present, and there have been distant yet strong voices against Mourinho’s (in)decision to drop Mata, with former number two Ray Wilkins describing it as a minor mistake.
“The only thing I can think of with Mata is that he hasn’t stopped playing football, probably for the last three years solid, and that he [Mourinho] is trying to break him in.”
“I personally feel it’s a tad of a mistake because Mata’s creativity is something that is very, very special and Chelsea, at the moment, are lacking his performance.” says Wilkins.
The Blues stumbled to a 2-1 defeat against Basel on Tuesday, their first Champions League defeat at Stamford Bridge in 10 years, which means they are currently in the midst of their worst start to a season in the Roman Abramovich-era.
Mourinho has risen more than a few eyebrows by failing to use Juan Mata, twice Chelsea’s player of the season, amidst rumors that the Spainard could be sold in the January transfer window. A section of fans held a banner reading, ‘Mata belongs on the pitch, not on the bench.’
There were strong indications of a big summer bid for Mata from one of Chelsea’s rivals Tottenham. Andre Villas-Boas made no secret of his admiration of the player, whom he had brought in at Chelsea.
“First, Chelsea wouldn’t sell to Tottenham in any way or form, as they think that we are title contenders,” said Villas-Boas, who saw his main target Willian choosing Chelsea over Spurs.
“Mata is a great, great player – player of the season last season – very, very important player for Chelsea. They’re just not going to strengthen another team that, in their opinion, are rivals for the title.”
An official bid for Mata wasn’t tabled but Mourinho’s constant exclusion of Mata from the starting line-up added fuel to the fire.
According to new reports in Portugal surfacing in Portugal, Tottenham will make a move for Mata in January. Portuguese sports newspaper Record suggest that Spurs’ manager Andre Villas-Boas will try again for Mata in January, seeing that he is now out of favor at Chelsea and will want to bolster his chances of playing in the World Cup next year in Brazil.
Some reports have also linked him with a reunion with Rafael Benitez at Napoli. The midfielder flourished last season during Benitez’s interim reign at Stamford Bridge.
The playmaker has hardly been used by Mourinho, just three times this season. Whether or not he fits into Mourinho’s plans, he is an invaluable asset to Chelsea. More than he needs Chelsea, it’s the other way round at the moment. His creative game and constructive passes made him a must have in Chelsea’s big matches, clearly something which Chelsea need at this instant.
Mourinho clearly wants the 4-2-3-1 formation, a tactical play he is infinitely convinced with. It is the reason why his pursuit of Rooney was so avid, and when that came off the hooks, he signed Samuel Eto’o, who played at a similar role under Mourinho at Inter.
True, Mata rarely contributes off the ball, and while Chelsea seem to have abundant options in that area, they don’t produce the same cutting-edge finishes that Mata does.
Rather like Joe Cole. A gifted footballer, darling of Chelsea and England fans alike but under-appreciated by Mourinho, and certainly not central to his plans. Mata, respected highly by the Chelsea faithful now sees himself fighting for a place against Willian, Eden Hazard, Oscar, Kevin De Bruyne and Andre Schurrle.
Chelsea must fear his departure in all ways, more so to a domestic rival. Selling Mata would unquestionably weaken Chelsea. Sure enough, Oscar and Eden Hazard are extremely talented young players, but they are not experienced enough to carry the burden of being the supply line of creativity and passes.
Even Willian cannot be expected to provide goals and assists in the absence of Mata. No player can supply exquisite, perfectly calculated passes like Mata does for Chelsea. And indeed it’s the frequency of them that ultimately matters.
There aren’t too many players who have won the European Championship, the World Cup, Champions League, FA Cup and Europa League by the time they are 25, but Mata is one of them. It is clear indicator of the influence Mata has on the team he plays for.
Being an ardent Chelsea fan, I see myself in a peculiar position having to question Mourinho’s tactics. Before the start of the season, everything he said made sense to us. Why wouldn’t it? Still, a few losses haven’t a little bit fluttered our wings of hopes and trust on him. But this somehow feels wrong. Deeply unsettling.