Juan Mata has been a fan favorite at Chelsea since joining in 2011, and for good reason. His contributions on the field and social presence off of it have made him a totem for Chelsea supporters to rally behind. But much to the dismay of Chelsea fans, Mata has seen far less playing time under José Mourinho. In light of this, let’s take a look at what the playmaker brings to Chelsea, and, ultimately, what they’ve been missing lately.
Mata first introduced himself to Chelsea supporters over his various social media profiles and personal blog. The Spaniard made no attempt to hide his excitement of moving to London, frequently posting pictures of himself against the city’s most famous backdrops. He also wrote several blog entries about meeting fans during his excursions in the Underground. It was a sequence of moves that immediately endeared him to supporters.
It didn’t take long for Mata to blend in with the squad either. He created 13 Premier League goals in his first year, accounting for 25% of Chelsea’s total assists and finishing second in the league in assists to David Silva. He also netted six goals, making him the third-best scorer at the club. His total, across all competitions, was 12 goals and 20 assists. These numbers, coupled with the less-tangible finesse he brought to the side, won him Chelsea’s Player of the Year. But despite Mata’s performance, Chelsea’s statistics were actually down from the three previous years. Their win percentage fell from an average of 64% to 46% and they scored nearly half a goal less per match. I mention this not so much to gauge the impact Mata had (for one player alone does not account for the statistics of a club over an entire season) but to show how the club would change in relation to Mata during the 2012/2013 season.
For it was this season that the playmaker did what every manager hopes a player will do, he got better. Here, Mata segued from a nice summer pickup to the most influential player in the squad. His previous assist count inflated to 28 for the total season and his Premier League goals doubled to 12, totaling 20 goals in all competitions. What’s most significant about these numbers is the managerial turmoil that plagued Chelsea during this time. Mata was able to improve upon a stellar first season in the face of shifting leadership.
Despite the seemingly-constant changes at the helm, Chelsea’s win percentage increased to 57.9% and their goals per match rose to just under two, which was the highest since 09/10. Again, there are a lot of reasons for this statistical increase but, watching Mata, it was clear to see he played a major role. The inclusion of Hazard and Oscar, two players that work well with Mata, went a long way in changing Chelsea’s style to a fast, shifting, fluid attack. The Three Amigos kept loosely to their positions and used the freedom they were given to play their style, wherever it was needed. Often though, Mata stayed central and allowed the attack to primarily flow through him.
After another stellar campaign, the midfielder was granted Player of the Year by his club for the second season in a row. He was also named to the PFA Team of the Year and was shortlisted for PFA Player of the Year.
Much has been made of Mata’s limited playing time this season. He has only started two matches and was severely limited in pre-season. Reports are conflicting on Mourinho’s feelings towards the player, though he has gone on records to say, “He is a player I trust a lot and will fight for position like everybody else. He will sometimes start, sometimes on the bench. He has to be prepared to not be selected like everybody else.”
As a new(ish) manager, Mourinho is doing what anyone else would do. He’s stated before that every player would have to earn their position. What’s so jarring, perhaps, is the fact that Mata has rightfully been named the club’s Player of the Year in two consecutive years. It’s difficult imagining him not starting. It’s a testament, really, to Mata’s influence at Chelsea. The Blues have a lot of depth and few players (Hazard, Cole, Cech) would draw a terrible amount of attention for not starting.
Mata has proven his worth over the past couple of years. If he continues to play at that level he’ll see a lot of time under Mourinho. His style is as effective as it is attractive, and he brings out the best in the players surrounding him. There’s no doubt that Mata has to be central to Chelsea’s plans moving forward.