Juan Mata: Where does he fit in at Chelsea now?

After a peculiar start, Chelsea’s Spanish midfield maestro, Juan Mata is beginning to show signs of being back to his best. Yet with Chelsea having so many similar options how can Mata get back to being one of the first names on the Chelsea team sheet?

Last season was a wild one for Chelsea. There were too many ups and downs to mention, but it eventually culminated in them securing a Champions League place, and winning the Europa League in Amsterdam. If it wasn’t for a certain Juan Mata and his 20 goals in 64 appearances throughout the season, such feats may not have been possible.

Alongside Oscar and Eden Hazard, Chelsea had one of the deadliest attacks in the league. Yet more depth was needed. Out on loan went the struggling Victor Moses and Marko Marin (to Liverpool and Sevilla respectively), and in came André Schürrle and Willian, as well as Kevin de Bruyne from loan. Competitor was bound to ensue.

Upon the season’s start, Mata wasn’t as match ready as his attacking midfield counterparts, virtue of a hectic summer in which he featured for Spain in the Confederations Cup in Brazil.

Lacking a proper pre-season, Mata wasn’t going to play too regularly early on. His exclusion from the starting elevens against both Hull City and Manchester United did being questions though; was Mata right for a Mourinho lead Chelsea team?

After all, Mata could be raged to be a luxury player, great on the ball, not so much off it. In Mata’s first few games in which he started against Aston Villa and Everton, he looked to be somewhat out of place, while he looked anything but previously.

Then all the madness began. Mata was cast aside by Mourinho as Chelsea lost to Basel after the defeat to Everton. Before the 2-0 home victory against Fulham, Mourinho spoke of “issues” he had with Mata. It seemed as if Mata was going to be left out in the cold for the foreseeable future, but Mata played like a man on a mission against Swindon in the Capital One Cup, and then as he came on a substitute against Tottenham in the league. Mata’s re-emergence now seems to be on track.

Once again though, matters (pardon the pun) seem to be out of Mata’s control, to an extent. André Schürrle’s accomplished performance against Steaua Bucharest in the 4-0 Champions League victory, twinned with Willian’s stunning strike in the Blues’ 3-1 win over Norwich, means competition is still rife for the Spaniard. Oscar and Eden Hazard are also there, but Kevin de Bruyne doesn’t seem to be part of Mourinho’s plans currently.

Mata may have to adjust his game, more tracking back and maybe more movement will be required to keep up with this high octane Chelsea team. Pace has never been a real strength of Mata’s, and with David Luiz playing more often now than he was a few weeks ago, Mata’s set piece abilities aren’t exactly being longed for. No way can Mata allow himself to feel as if he has his place back permanently at this point.

Mata is capable of playing out wide, as well as in the centre though, and this is an arguable advantage he has over all his other positional rivals, except for maybe Oscar. The ability of Mata to create something from most nothing is a quality that is wonderful to have in any side, regardless of formation. The Chelsea fans know what he can do, and they will inevitably scratch their heads when he doesn’t play. The faith in his ability is there at all times.

What Chelsea do from here is almost impossible to predict, but I can’t help thinking that Mourinho’s almost permanent tinkering of his starting elevens is a risky move. Having a settled starting team for the most part is important to any team, especially in the inevitable “big” games brag Chelsea will play him as they chase both the Premier League and even the Champions League.

Three out of the six supremely talented attacking midfielders Chelsea have their disposal will not feature too regularly, and Mata’s style may have to be revised if he is to avoid that fate.


Written by Joshua Sodergren

Follow Joshua on Twitter @Joshsalad365

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