From the moment this long and exhausting season began, Juan Mata was there for Chelsea, more times than anyone else. Through the ups and downs of Oscar, Fernando Torres and Frank Lampard, the Spaniard, who barely has a place on his own national team, came up with the big goals, big assists and big matches to make sure this won’t be the season the team falls to previously unknown depths.
There’s nothing like a match at Old Trafford to test your true abilities, even if Manchester United are on cruise control till the end of the season. Alex Ferguson hates losing, especially to Rafa Benitez, possibly the rival manager he detests more than anyone else. And still Chelsea have been the better side against the Red Devils every time the two teams have met this season, and if it wasn’t for Mark Clattenburg, United don’t win their first visit to Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea came as the team that wanted, needed, the three points more than anything, but found a hard time getting them. Only after a brilliant piece of midfield defending from Ramires, in one of his more disciplined, smart and effective performances that left Wayne Rooney complaining on the ground before finding Oscar with a cheeky little heel, and the Brazilian discovering Juan Mata in the box. Not the best of shots in the world, but Phil Jones was there to help and give Chelsea a win they deserved.
In their 65th match of the season you’d expect them to be crushed, flat, empty. But Chelsea have found themselves after losing twice to Manchester City, looking stronger by the minute and the match, including in the Europa League where they have reached the final. David Luiz is playing like the best centre back in the Premier League, and is even good enough to make it look like a much smaller man (Rafael) can actually hurt him, adding a little devilish smile after getting his country-mate sent off.
Chelsea played with two strikers in the end, Victor Moses coming off for Fernando Torres, joining Demba Ba up front. It didn’t do anything special, but it put Chelsea in a formation we’ve hardly seen them in all season, which might have been used a bit more if not for the rigidness of tactics from both Benitez and Di Matteo earlier in the season. It forced United’s centre backs to leave either Mata or Oscar relatively free, and Ramirers, along with Frank Lampard, had no problem keeping tabs on the midfield trio of Manchester United, struggling to make anything happen during the match.
These are the final days for Rafa Benitez as the manager of Chelsea, with two missions left to accomplish. He’s now third in the Premier League, three matches left to play. A win over Tottenham will secure the UCL spot, but also six points in general should be enough. The Europa League is important, but minor trophies don’t match up to big UEFA money. Thanks to Juan Mata, Benitez might have a chance to hold his head up high for the entire summer.