As he stormed past Jose Mourinho without even the slightest of acknowledgements after being subbed after 60 minutes against Southampton, Juan Mata had frustration written all over his face.
That was the second time this season. Mourinho claimed the frustrated look was more as a result of the outcome of the game (still scoreless) at the time. It is easy however to believe otherwise.
Chelsea's best player for two seasons running has found game time extremely difficult to come by since 'The Special One' returned to west London; and it is because of his unwillingness or inability to track back and help the defence.
While it is true that Mourinho places too much emphasis on his creative players doing their bit in defence, it is also arguable that he overburdens them that bit much with the extra work he has them doing.
But then, the results have been impressive: a leaking defence has been plugged and the back line looks more solid because everyone does their part, and the attackers have been exceptional for the past three games too.For Mata, however, it is a process that is extremely difficult to adapt to.
Mourinho has openly praised Mata's attitude and his willingness to carry the extra load, but only a few times have we really seen Mata play in games. It is extremely difficult to assess and analyse Mata's performance over a handful of minutes, scattered across a couple of months. For a player of Mata's quality, such denial of game time especially with the World Cup looming is atrocious.
The 25-year-old Spaniard has found opportunities hard to come by; and by New Year Day's evidence, he has lost the aura of invincibility that made him the fulcrum of Chelsea's play just a year ago. But most notably he has lost his ability to influence games as much as he used to, and he looked short of confidence too against Southampton.
This is not to say Mata has lost his brilliance overnight, far from it. It simply means he has gone from an outstanding footballer with gracious abilities to a rotated squad member without his manager's trust.
What makes it even more difficult is that his direct replacement, diminutive Brazilian playmaker Oscar, is everything the manager wants - and then more. Oscar is quick, physical and performs his 'Mourinho duty' diligently by tracking back all game. He is also as intelligent as Mata, and his direct involvement (he did score the third) in Chelsea's three goals at Southampton is evidence that Mata has lost his place in the squad.
Mourinho's post-match comments implied that Mata was free to leave if he wanted to, and that is hardly the best way to pacify a creative genius such as Mata. But, with his frustrations boiling over and a World Cup on the horizon, the Spaniard may just be better served acting on those comments and leave Chelsea.
One cannot but wonder how much Chelsea will miss him if he does leave. But most importantly, what has led to his big fall from grace? Certainly not an unwilingness to track back...
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