Juan Mata - you only have to say the name to a Chelsea fan and you’ll realise how much he means to them.
Since his move from Valencia, the Spanish midfielder has won the accolade of Chelsea’s Player of the Year in consecutive seasons, and was the driving force behind the Blues' back-to-back European trophies in the Champions League and Europa League.
Mata has contributed an incredible 48 assists for Chelsea over his first two seasons, scoring 32 goals in the process. Not even Mesut Ozil (45 assists, 19 goals), Mario Gotze (21, 23), Xavi (21, 22), Cesc Fabregas (22, 29), or Santi Cazorla (18, 21) have come close to having the impact on their respective teams that Mata has on Chelsea over the last two seasons.
The closest person statistically to Mata? His teammate Eden Hazard, who has 35 assists, 34 goals in two seasons between Chelsea and Lille.
Surely then, the first two names on Jose Mourinho’s team sheet are obvious: Eden Hazard and Juan Mata. Correct?
You'd certainly think so, however, for the moment Mata seems to have been left out in the cold leaving Chelsea fans puzzled and frustrated.
Mata’s “replacement” for the moment, the diminutive Brazilian Oscar, has been enjoying fine form for Chelsea this season. Oscar has six goals in all competitions this season and two assists. However, the goals and assists are not necessarily the reason why Mourinho has stuck with Oscar in the number 10 role over Chelsea’s double-player-of-the-year.
The reason? Oscar also contributes defensively.
Mourinho likes players that help transition defence into an attack, and Oscar is the player doing that on a consistent basis for Chelsea, and comes deeper into the defensive third than Mata does (look up match reports on FourFourTwo Stats Zone) on a more consistent basis.
I know what you’re thinking: “That’s not Mata’s job! His job is to score and create.” Well under Mourinho it is also his job to defend, and in this system Mourinho is right to leave out Mata … for now.
Let’s break it down:
Last season Oscar averaged two defensive actions per game and won, on average, 1.4 of those actions. Mata averaged just 0.8 defensive actions and won an average of just 0.4 of those actions.
Oscar also spends more time in deeper positions than Mata. Oscar spends roughly 19.5 per cent of games in defensive midfield positions compared to Mata’s 12 per cent. Oscar also spends more time defending in wider positions.
Mourinho likes players who work hard, and while I wont say that Mata doesn’t give it his all for Chelsea every time he plays – Oscar contributes more on the defensive side of the ball.
For example: In Chelsea’s 4-1 victory over Cardiff we are able to see how each player played the number 10 position. Mata played for 59 minutes, before making way for Oscar.
In 59 minutes Mata attempted no tackles or aerial duels, recovered the ball once in the attacking third and played seven passes from within his own half.
In 35 minutes Oscar attempted and completed one tackle (on the edge of his own penalty area’s “D”), recovered the ball twice – once in his own half, and once in the attacking third - won an aerial duel wide on the left in his own half, attempted nine passes in his own half and scored a goal.
The same two players against Norwich City played most of the game with Mata playing on the right and Oscar in the middle.
Mata recovered the ball twice, - once in his own half - attempted seven passes in his own half, attempted no tackles, or aerial duels.
Oscar recovered the ball four times – all in his own half - attempted and completed two tackles, attempted but lost out in an aerial duel and attempted eight passes in his own half.
What is notable when looking at the movement and ground covered by both of these players is that in the attacking third they are very similar but the difference is in how much of the defensive third Oscar covers versus Mata.
A lot of people read too much into Willian coming on for Andre Schürrle in the Manchester City game. Mata is not blessed with amazing speed, Willian versus Gael Clichy is a much more even matchup defensively than Mata versus Clichy.
Using Schürrle and then Willian to counter Clichy’s overlapping paid dividends as Chelsea walked out of a big game with three huge points under their belt.
In Tuesday’s Capital One Cup game Mata came off in stoppage time, and scored a magnificent goal, but more importantly he put in a lot of work defensively.
That is what Mourinho wants to see him doing on a more regular basis.
Mata, for now, is out in the cold until he can perform this way on a more consistent basis, proving to Mourinho that he can play the defensive game that he wants him to play.
While Mourinho’s treatment of Mata may seem harsh right now, I am very confident that Mata will come out of it an even better player than he already is.
Nobody is giving up on Mata at Chelsea, especially not Mourinho - it’s just tough love. Mata, along with Chelsea fans, will be thankful for it in the very near future.
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