Jose Mourinho appeared to have something against Spain international Juan Mata from the moment he agreed to become Chelsea manager for the second time.
Everyone questioned whether Mata was a ‘Mourinho-type’ player - and by that they meant a player with powerful, fast and aggressive attributes. Mata did not fit that particular bill, but he was Chelsea’s two-time Player of the Season - and someone who had produced a total of 17 Premier League goals and 34 assists over the course of two campaigns.
Freezing such an effective player out of the team made no sense, but that’s precisely what happened in the period between August and January. Mata was used sparingly until even the most placid and unassuming man in the world became bitter and frustrated, as Mourinho made it clear - without saying it in as many words - that the 25-year-old was not part of his plans.
The Portuguese coach regarded Eden Hazard, Oscar and Willian as his most effective attacking-midfield trio. Hazard and Willian as the direct, speedy wide-men, and Oscar as the team’s main playmaker - the schemer - playing just behind one striker.
Oscar has produced a mere fraction of the combined goals and assists of Mata last season, but Mourinho liked what he saw from the Brazil international, who started the current campaign with a bang.
This subsequently convinced Mourinho to sell Mata to Manchester United, whose £37.1m offer was simply too irresistible to turn down - particularly for a player who stood no chance of fighting his way into any Mourinho team. He wasn’t big, quick or strong enough, after all.
But after a brief settling-in period at Old Trafford, Mata is finally beginning to rediscover his confidence, and has weighed in with three goals and two assists in his last two Premier League matches.
Oscar, meanwhile, has produced just one assist and scored two goals in the Premier League since New Years Day. For an established Brazil international playing Chelsea - even at the relatively tender age of 22 - that simply isn’t good enough.
Mourinho may well blame his strikers for their inability to finish off chances, but Oscar has looked a little off the pace in recent months, possibly because he knows full well that Mata isn’t lurking behind him ready to take his place. This lack of healthy competition appears to have had a negative affect on the South American’s game.
But, regardless of that, there’s a good argument to suggest that Mata is the better playmaker out of the two. And a far superior one at that.
Mata is a world and European champion who has won the FA Cup, Europa League and Champions League - and a player who has been arguably the Premier League’s most outstanding performers over the course of the last two full seasons.
Oscar - who is now valued at £40m and reportedly wanted by French champions PSG - has a long, long way to go to reach the standards set by Mata during the 2012-13 campaign - and perhaps he never will.
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