There isn’t a soccer fan in the world that can deny the greatness Juan Mata displays on the pitch. The Spain international is one of the most creative players in the world with a soccer ball at his feet. So why is it so hard for Mata to force his way into Jose Mourinho’s starting 11 at Chelsea so far this season.
An optimist would say that Mata is coming off a minor injury and has yet to rediscover his form and full fitness. A soccer aficionado would look a little bit deeper into the philosophy of Mourinho and what has made him so successful over the years, specifically in the English Premier League and Champions League. The “Special One” is known as a tactical genius; he has a certain vision and expectation about the characteristics that his starting 11 should possess.
Mata was Chelsea’s player of the season under manager Rafa Benitez during last campaign, like other great Spanish midfielders such as Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, David Silva, Cesc Fabregas and Santi Carzola they pride themselves on ball retention, focusing on possession rather than a direct route to goal. Contrarily, Mourinho bases his tactics off of counter-attacking football, which requires his midfielders to defend and get out on the break with pace, pace is something Mata sorely lacks.
Mourinho is known for his 4-2-3-1 system and being part of that attacking three in midfield requires defensive cover and pace on the break; neither are traits Mata is known for. Mata lacks the pace to play on the wing in Mourinho’s system. With Eden Hazard, Willian, Andre Schurrle and Kevin De Bruyne all being better athletes and possessing more pace, it looks hard pressed to see him break into the starting 11 in the wide areas.
Mata would be most managers’ quintessential No. 10, but with young Brazilian International Oscar embodying the ideal traits Mourinho desires, it is inconceivable to see Mata displace the young Brazilian for the No. 10 role. Oscar is bigger, stronger, faster and has a far better defensive acumen than Mata, with a strong tackling percentage.
Even though these aren’t ideal circumstances for any player, one could surmise that Mata can still be a key-contributing factor for Mourinho’s side this season. One thing all soccer fans know about Mourinho is that he is not a patient manager. He tends to make changes in the attacking third of the pitch on the 60-minute mark in almost every game. When Chelsea is in need of a goal or creative inspiration, Mata will most certainly see his number called upon.
Mata is not in ideal circumstances by any stretch, but his unenviable predicament can render him as a savior at some point during the season, possibly forcing his way into Mourinho’s starting 11 permanently.