Last season, lest we forget, Juan Mata scored 11 goals and provided 18 assists in the Premier League alone for Chelsea. In the year before that, his first at Stamford Bridge, the diminutive Spanish playmaker scored six league goals and produced 16 assists.
Stats like these are the reason why Chelsea paid Valencia £23.5m for his services in 2011 - and why the attacking midfielder was subsequently awarded the club’s Player of the Year award in back-to-back seasons.
But Mata’s past achievements were totally disregarded by Jose Mourinho when he returned to Stamford Bridge last summer. As soon as it was confirmed the Portuguese coach would be re-joining the Blues, people instantly feared for Mata’s future as a Chelsea player - and they were right to.
Mata, as it turned out, was not a Mourinho player. But he was never given a fair crack of the whip to prove he could adjust to the ex-Real Madrid manager’s style of play. No longer than Mourinho had arrived, Mata had been sent packing off to Manchester United. Hardly a bad move for the Spain international, but the circumstances behind his transfer undoubtedly hurt his professional pride at the time.
Mata’s pain quickly ceased, though. Yes, it’s been a tough start to life at Old Trafford, but he’s settled in superbly and is already one of the most popular players in the dressing room. Then again, who wouldn’t get along with the universally-liked Juan Mata? Other than Mourinho, of course.
That Manchester United have sacked David Moyes and will replace him with Dutch coach Louis van Gaal should only benefit Mata. Van Gaal is a coach who can get the best out of technically-gifted footballers - and Mata is arguably the most technically-sound player in the Manchester United squad.
He ended the season with a flourish, eventually finishing his first four months with the Red Devils having scored six goals and provided seven assists in 15 Premier League appearances. Not bad going for a player settling in at a new club.
Chelsea, meanwhile, ended up missing out on the Premier League title by five points. Mourinho’s side shot themselves in the foot, failing to beat teams they really ought to have taken all three points from.
January’s 0-0 draw at home to West Ham, the 1-1 draw away at West Brom two weeks later, defeats against Aston Villa, Crystal Palace and Chelsea, and a 0-0 draw with Norwich City in their final home game of the 2013/14 season were all games Mourinho’s side should have won. But they encountered difficulties breaking sides down - sides who were content to sit back and soak up pressure before springing a counter-attack. Mourinho is certainly no stranger to such defensive tactics.
The onus was often on Eden Hazard to provide the moment on quality to beat teams - and the Belgium international often produced the goods, hence why he was named Chelsea’s Player of the Year earlier this week - but Willian and, in particular, Oscar were often found wanting.
Surely, had they kept Mata at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea would now be Premier League champions. Had Mourinho placed more confidence in him, a fit and happy Mata would have scored enough goals and provided enough assists to ensure the Blues would have won their first league title since 2010.
We’ll never know for certain, but many Chelsea supporters still believe - and rightly so - that selling Mata was a huge mistake on Mourinho’s part.
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