Much has been made about the continued exclusion of one Juan Mata from Chelsea’s starting XI so far this season.

Sunday’s top-of-the-table clash against Manchester City again saw the Brazilian Oscar start ahead of Mata.

In fact, manager Jose Mourinho still preferred to pick John Obi Mikel, Willian and Samuel Eto’o ahead of Chelsea’s No.10 even from the bench.

A head-to-head comparison between Oscar and Juan Mata will also reveal that the Brazilian has made twice as many appearances as his Spanish team-mate so far this season.

Why Mata has been dropped from the first XI is a topic that is now stale, but will he ever be reinstated to his former glory?

I think “the Special One” Jose Mourinho will continue to leave the Spanish midfield maestro out unless Mata adapts to his current manager’s style of play.

Chelsea’s Player of the Season for the last two consecutive seasons was a mainstay in the Blues’ first XI under previous managers, but has found himself making just four starts under Jose Mourinho in the Premier League, a move which many were questioning but has, to some extent, been proven to be the right one by Mourinho.

The Portuguese coach has, time and again, pointed to the higher defensive contribution by Brazilian Oscar, who is currently ahead of Mata in Chelsea’s pecking order; a claim which can be backed statistically as well.

The Brazilian, having made ten appearances so far this season, currently averages two tackles and 1.2 clearances per game, a respectable defensive contribution by any attacking midfielder.

Mata, in comparison, averages just 0.6 tackles and 0.5 clearances per game, both figures being negligible. One can even go back as far as last season, where Oscar was among the Premier League’s top 40 tacklers, a statistic that is testament to his hard work and awareness of his defensive duties in the game. Tackle-shy Mata, however, was not even in the top 200.

Now, this statistics would matter little to more technical managers such as Arsenal’s
Arsene Wenger for example, or Everton’s Roberto Martinez.

One suspects, however, that flair and technique are not factors that would find themselves high up on Jose Mourinho’s wish list for any of his first-team players. All of
Mourinho’s sides have been built on defensive solidity and explosive counter-attacking abilities, two areas of the game where Oscar truly excels in.

The Special One himself keeps mentioning it during his press conferences and interviews, as when he was speaking of Fernando Torres in the aftermath of yesterday’s dramatic (lucky maybe?) 2-1 win over fellow title contenders Manchester City.

Clearly then, hard work and defensive awareness are what Mourinho most values.

More to this is the movement of the players (Mata vs Oscar). Oscar spends more time in his own half during matches; he starts more moves from his own defensive half
and makes more tackles in his half as well.

Mata on the other hand prefers to stick a little higher up the pitch, and makes next to no defensive contribution at all in his own half. He also spends much more time in the offensive half than in his own, demonstrating just how he does not like to track back during matches.

One does feel for Mata, considering that defending is not in his repertoire, but for as long as Jose Mourinho remains in charge at Stamford Bridge he is unlikely to start Mata over Oscar.

This can already be seen from the line-up Mourinho has selected for the big games against Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspurs and Manchester City so far this season, where Oscar has always been picked ahead of the Spaniard.  

Mata therefore has to either adapt to this new defensive set-up or then continue sitting out. One must also not forget that with the FIFA World Cup next summer, the competition for places on that flight to Brazil is higher than ever for the Spanish national team.

Simply put, Juan Mata has to reinvent himself to get back in Mourinho’s good books.

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