A Chelsea defeat at Stamford Bridge under Jose Mourinho is almost unheard of. In his first stint as Chelsea manager, Jose only lost 2 home games in all competitions in 3 and a half years, one of them being a Carling Cup game and the other being against Barcelona. Under Jose, Stamford Bridge was an unvanquishable fortress. The home defeat against FC Basel on Wednesday night though, has changed all that.
Chelsea’s form in their last 4 games reads 3 defeats and 1 loss. The fact that Jose still hasn’t managed to find his best XI is all the more disturbing for Chelsea fans.
The one thing though, that stands out in Jose’s tactics thus far, is his alienation of Juan Mata.
Why is Juan Mata, Chelsea’s Player of The Year for the past two seasons, not a regular starter under Jose Mourinho?
After arriving from Valencia in the summer of 2011, Mata didn’t take long to establish himself as a firm fan-favourite. Assuming the Number 10 role behind the centre forward, he scored on his Premier League, Champions League, FA Cup and League Cup debuts. In total, he managed to find the back of the net 12 times in his first year at the club. Mata also assisted numerous goals for his teammates, most notably the late equaliser in the Champions League final for Didier Drogba.
The Special Juan: Mata was absolutely superb in his first two seasons at Chelsea
His second season was even better as Mata, now with Oscar and Eden Hazard playing alongside him, scored 20 goals and played a vital hand in several others. Unsurprisingly, he picked up the Chelsea Player of The Year for the second consecutive season. Mata was also voted Players’ Player of The Year, a clear indication of the huge influence he had on this Chelsea side.
This season though, with Jose Mourinho at the helm, it has all changed.
Mourinho made it clear right at the start of the season that he intended to use Oscar, rather Mata as the Number 10. This was a deviation from last year, when Mata played behind the striker and Oscar assumed the role on the right.
In the opening game of the season against Hull City, Mata was benched after arriving only the day before from international duty. He started the second game against Aston Villa on the right and played for 64 minutes before being substituted. He has only started one game since – away at Everton. His performances in both those games were well below par. Last night against Basel, he was brought on with 20 minutes left to play, but once again failed to stamp his authority over the game.
A Mata of Frustration: From being the first name on the teamsheet, Juan Mata has been pushed to the bench
Is Juan Mata as good on the wings as he is through the centre?
When played as a Number 10, Mata was an absolute sensation. He was arguably one of the best players in the whole of the Premier League. His composure on the ball, his passing, his vision and his creativity allowed him to influence every game he played in.
As a winger, though, he is much less dangerous. Running at defenders, beating men and whipping in crosses for strikers to attack have never been Mata’s optimum strengths. Although quite pacy, he is not as quick as either Oscar or Hazard. Added to that, he is also not known for his defensive side of the game, and tracking back is something every winger needs to do. Hazard added that aspect to his game last season, whereas Mata is an asset only whilst going forward.
The arrivals of Andre Schurrle and Willian have further added to Mata’s woes. Both these players have the qualities of the archetypical winger and have started ahead of Mata. With Oscar looking to have cemented the Number 10 position with some superb performances, Mata has become a regular feature on the Chelsea bench.
Loud and Clear: A fan voices his opinion on the Mata issue in the game against Basel
There were games though last season, when Chelsea found it extremely difficult to break sides down and it was Mata who came up with the goods. It was his inch perfect passes and well-measure balls over the top of the opposition backline which proved key to unlocking tight defensive lines. Even though the likes of Oscar, Hazard and Schurrle are extremely capable of cutting open defences, Mourinho may be walking a tightrope by leaving Mata out. Several fans have already their displeasure at his ostracism of the Spaniard, and if results don’t improve quickly, they may well turn against their manager.