While most, if not all, Chelsea fans were overjoyed at the return of Jose Mourinho, not many would have counted on him sidelining Juan Mata.
Chelsea's Player of the Year in the last two seasons has found game time hard to come by since the "Special One" retook the reins at Stamford Bridge, featuring only once so far this season. Even when he did play, Mata was forced out to the right flank, where he isn't particularly effective.
Last season, Mata was arguably the best number 10 in the world. He contributed a staggering 20 goals and 35 assists in all competitions and his telepathic connection with Eden Hazard was a beautiful sight to behold. Only Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo directly contributed to more goals than him. When he was missing, Chelsea usually struggled to create chances.
In his previous seasons, it would have been unthinkable to leave Mata out of the starting lineup of a massive game like the ones against United and Bayern Munich, let alone let him stay on the bench, but Mourinho seemed unwilling to use him even when Chelsea were in desperate need of some creativity. This is particularly baffling considering that with Gareth Bale's departure, he is indisputably the best midfielder in the Premier League, at least until Mesut Ozil adjusts to his new environment.
The comparisons between the two will be inevitable, but Mata probably edges even the extraordinarily talented German.
Considering the attributes required for a number 10, he has them all: amazing ball control, pinpoint passing, excellent vision, superb dribbling and an eye for goal. This begs the question as to why Mourinho favours Oscar in the role behind the striker.
There is no doubting the Brazilian has immense talent, but does he really compare to Mata? Sure, he has more pace, is good at tracking back and he too has the qualities of a good playmaker, but he lacks the same killer instinct that Mata has. His finishing ability doesn't match up to Mata's and he doesn't have the consistency to keep picking out those game-changing, defence-splitting passes on a weekly basis.
Oscar has been very impressive so far this season, but sacrificing him for Mata would only benefit Chelsea. Mata has proved himself in that position over the last two seasons and Mourinho should disregard his lack of defensive ability and let him focus on what he does best.
He wasn't really expected to track back last season, and he flourished in his free role. There is no doubt that Chelsea's chances for major honours would be dented without the Spaniard playing in his favoured position.
Not doing so would leave Chelsea in danger of losing their "next Gianfranco Zola", which would not please the fans one bit.
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