Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has hinted that he sold Juan Mata to Manchester United in January because the Spain international did not work hard enough for the team.
Speaking with the official Chelsea Football Club magazine, the Portuguese coach explained that he requires his attacking midfielders to press high up the pitch and work hard to win back possession.
This was the reason Mourinho dropped Mata from his starting line-up for much of the first half of this season, before the Chelsea boss agreed to accept Manchester United’s £37.1m offer for the Blues’ two-time Player of the Year during the last transfer window.
"Every player has to work for the team, both with and without the ball,” Mourinho commented. "All of our players contribute defensively and for the attacking midfielders there is a big responsibility to press the opposition when they have possession in their own half.
"It is extremely important to try to win the ball as high up the pitch as possible because, when you do this, your opponent is usually less prepared for the counter-attack.
"Usually, when you win the ball back close to their goal, the opposition defenders are not positioned to deal with a quick attack, so you have a good chance to find space, to exploit it and, hopefully, to score."
Ironically, considering his strained relationship with the club, it’s Barcelona who have made popular the tactic of defending from the front and working tirelessly to win back possession seconds after losing the ball.
However, all of Europe’s biggest clubs now understand that strikers and attacking midfielders must work hard to put pressure on opposition defences and goalkeepers in order to increase their chances of scoring.
This is why Mourinho left Mata out in favour of a three-pronged attacking midfield comprised of Eden Hazard, Oscar and Willian - all of whom are talented yet work hard for the team, too.
Still, Chelsea’s loss has been Manchester United’s gain with regards to Mata, who has scored three goals and provided seven assists in his 11 Premier League appearances for the Red Devils.