A month into the new season, and it seems like the alleged rumors of Jose Mourinho not wanting Juan Mata on his team weren’t that far off the truth, as recent headlines indicate of the manager giving the Spaniard some sort of ultimatum to change his playing style or risk more time on the bench or worse.
Mata, Chelsea’s best player during his first two seasons at the club, playing in somewhat of a free role behind the striker, has started only twice this season in the Premier League, not getting a chance to play for more than 65 minutes. In the Champions League he has come off the bench once, as Basel were completing their comeback win at Stamford Bridge.
How does a player move from being the best to an unwanted presence on the pitch by the manager? Mourinho is infatuated with notion of Oscar as his no. 10, and he seems quite adamant that this is going to be the course Chelsea takes. He doesn’t even mind explaining why, even if Oscar plays in a wider position for the national team.
One thing is to play with Ramires and Oscar in the side, them closing each side, and Mata as a No. 10 behind the striker, clever assists and clever passes, fantastic actions because he has great talent. Another thing is to adapt to the way we want to play. In this moment, Oscar is my No. 10 and, if somebody tells me that Oscar is not Chelsea’s best player since the beginning of the season, I’d have to disagree. These are football issues.
They can play together, when he adapts to it. But I’m not ready to play Oscar following full-backs, because he plays in that position for the country with more talented players than anyone else in the world in that position. I want to build with Oscar as my No. 10. I want the other two players, from the side, to adapt to that reality and learn now to do things that they were not ready to do before.
Mourinho wants Hazard on the left, where the Belgian does pretty well even if he himself isn’t the most natural of wingers as well, and someone other than Oscar on the right. Juan Mata isn’t exactly used to being in such a limited role, so that is why even when he did actually get the chance to play this season, his performances were disappointing and unmemorable.
Some suggest that Mata and others on this team were meant for a different manager; that Mourinho wasn’t Chelsea’s first choice, and were hoping for Pep Guardiola until he announced that he’ll be joining Bayern Munich. It’s safe to say that this team doesn’t resemble anything you’d expect from Mourinho, but the manager himself has changed since his campaign with Inter in 2010, although there have been already a couple of matches in this campaign in which Chelsea didn’t look like a side that is too worried about winning (Especially their visit to Old Trafford).
It doesn’t matter what names are brought in: Willian, Schurrle and others. It doesn’t change the fact that as a no. 10, Mata is better than anyone Chelsea have, and trying to change that while forcing Oscar onto the position doesn’t do the team any well. Mata can adapt or eventually find himself out of the lineup and possibly off the team, but it will just be a testament to the stubbornness of Mourinho, who once again finds himself clashing heads with players for what seems to be something that’s not only about football, but goes beyond it.