In August, several pundits (myself included) felt that Jose Mourinho had to integrate Juan Mata into Chelsea and build around the talented Spaniard to have any chance of success. The decision to freeze Mata out of the preferred starting XI led to numerous newspaper and blog columns slating the decision, which added to some very uneasy times among a large portion of Chelsea supporters.
But like so many times in the past, Mourinho has bested his critics, proving he could forge a winning side with his principles and his types of players and forgo the conventional wisdom. With his controversial selection policies, The Special One has fired Chelsea into the catbirds seat in the Barclays Premier League title race. While the Blues currently sit third in the table, two points from top, they have six of their remaining eight fixtures against top sides at Stamford Bridge as compared to Arsenal who have four of eight at home and Manchester City who have just one of eight at the Etihad Stadium.
The style Mourinho has long advocated involves two-way players who can move the ball quickly and also defend well. Towards the end of the summer window, the acquisition of Willian from cash-starved Anzhi gave the Chelsea Manager an attacking option that fits his style. Blending Willian into the team over time was always going to cost Mata and also André Schürrle playing time. Oscar has embraced Mourinho’s philosophy, lingering on the ball less than last season while defending with a purpose.
Mata’s next move is being closely watched by the media. Will the player force a move to the continent this January to get playing time and secure his spot in Spain’s World Cup squad? Or will he sit at Chelsea and wait for another chance, given the pile up of fixtures remaining and the unmistakable quality he can still bring to a football pitch?
What cannot be disputed is that in his second stint at Chelsea, Jose Mourinho has improved the side while stamping his authority on the team. Juan Mata may have been the Blues most accomplished player the past two seasons, but that was for a side that finished 6th and 3rd in the Premier League, not the title challenging team that Mourinho now possesses. The Special One has proven once again that winning in his book trumps style and critical accolades.
If Chelsea win the 2013-14 Premier League title, we can say Mourinho did it his way.
Editor’s note: For the latest Blues news, analysis and opinion, visit the Chelsea team page.