Chelsea have had their ups and downs in the last 2 years. The unmitigated joy of Champions League success, tempered by poor performances and the sacking of club legend Roberto Di Matteo. Frank Lampard’s record breaking goalscoring antics against Fernando Torres’ continued shyness in front of goal in the league. Eden Hazard dominating a game…Eden Hazard kicking a ball-boy. It’s been a bit up and down, and any level of normality can only be achieved by the installation of a new manager.
However, there has been one absolute star – one little Spanish delight that continues to show his remarkable and incredible importance to the Chelsea team. Juan Mata bought from Valencia for £23 million pounds, has proven to be one of the shrewdest of Chelsea’s buys in many years. In the course of the 2012/13 season, Mata made a staggering 64 appearances. His reliability was vital in a hectic schedule. As if that wasn’t enough, in those 64 appearances, Mata managed to notch up 20 goals and 29 assists. That’s 49 combined goals/assists in 64 games.
These kinds of numbers are downright impressive on a page, but watching Mata play really highlights his crucial role in Chelsea’s team. While Hazard or Lampard have the ability to create something out of nothing, Juan Mata is the centrepiece of the whole team. He constantly looks to get on the ball and bring other players in to the game. Mata takes responsibility, and actively looks to influence the general tone and pace of the play. He makes the whole team tick, and his absence causes big problems.
With a new manager coming in, it remains to be seen what Mata’s role will be in the forthcoming season. A new manager may wish to play a more traditional 4 – 4 – 2, and this would force Mata to play in a more wide role similar to the one Hazard has played all season. The big difference is that Hazard is a direct attacker – Mata is more of a playmaker. While he might do an admirable job on a wing, he can directly influence the game more effectively than any other Chelsea player when playing in an attacking central role. I sincerely hope that the incoming manager sees this too, because it really is very hard to argue with 49 goals and assists from 64 games!