Named Chelsea‘s best player for his first two seasons in England, Juan Mata is finding it very hard to gain playing time this season under Jose Mourinho. The Spaniard playmaker was an unused substitute again this Sunday against Liverpool as he was against Arsenal on Monday and doesn’t seem to be in Mourinho’s plans. To play regular first team football, Mata will need to adapt to Mourinho’s style or leave Chelsea.
Mata was arguably Chelsea’s most important player for his first two seasons in West London. The Spaniard’s contribution was crucial in Chelsea’s recent successes, including a Champions League in 2012 and a Europa League in 2013. Under Andre Villas Boas, Roberto Di Matteo and Rafael Benitez, the former Valencia player was one of the first names on the team sheet, but Mata has found himself on the bench very often this season. Eden Hazard, Andre Schurrle, Willian and Oscar seem to be ahead of him in Mourinho’s mind.
Mata has featured in 12 Premier League games this season, starting nine of them, but the Spaniard was never used in big games. He was an unused substitute against Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool. When asked about Mata’s absence for those games, Mourinho responded that the Spaniard needed to improve his defensive work rate. Even though Mata is a fantastic player, the Portuguese manager has a point. The former Valencia player could be a liability at times when his team is out of possession.
Unfortunately for Mata, his teammates have done well without him in the starting lineup and their three defeats were all with him at the start. In Chelsea’s 4-2-3-1, Mourinho often picks Willian, Oscar and Hazard to support the striker for their defensive work rate, tactical discipline and ability to get forward quick on counter attacks. Those players fit more with Mourinho’s idea of football than Mata, who is a player known for technique, vision, passing and dribbling in tight spaces.
Juan Mata’s difficulties to get playing time at Chelsea are due to his inability to adapt to Jose Mourinho’s style rather than a lack of talent or a personal problem between him and his manager. To change his situation and become a regular starter, the Spaniard would need to make a few changes to his game and become a different player, unless if he prefers to go play his football elsewhere.