Chelsea FC – Thankful for Having Juan Mata

In a game Chelsea had to win because of the pressures a loss would have brought on Rafa Benitez, they eventually came through with an impressive scoreline no one expected. Juan Mata continues to be the difference between wins and losses, as the Spaniard continues to outshine more expensive arrivals.

A 5-1 win over Leeds in the League Cup isn’t something usually celebrated at Stamford Bridge, not in recent years. League titles, the Champions League, those are the important wins. These are the kind of matches with pretty much nothing to win in them. Still, after the Club World Cup loss to Corinthians, there was a need for Benitez to show he has a hold on this team, with more than just his adjusted tactics.

Frank Lampard, slowly making his return back to a prominent place with the team, even finishing the full 90 minutes, said that a half time pep talk in the dressing room changed everything. On paper, the result suggests he was right. Chelsea went down 1-0 at half time and came out to score within 60 seconds from the whistle, finishing with five goals. Fernando Torres, who was terribly wasteful in Japan, found the goal in what has been a good stretch for him.

Above all is Juan Mata at the moment, especially with Eden Hazard getting the bench role in Benitez’ talent rotation between him, Mata and Oscar. At the moment, no one plays the attacking midfielder sitting behind the striker better than him on this team, while Oscar has been moved a bit back to fill the holes Chelsea have in their midfield. He’s been doing a good job at the position as well.

But Mata is, at the moment, where the brilliance, flair and sparks come from. Last season he posted some good matches and numbers, but he wasn’t the one running the show, taking a step back while Lampard and Didier Drogba still steered the ship forward, eventually winning the Champions League. This season?

Mata seems to be the beginning and ending of everything, with six goals and six assists in the Premier League. Beyond the numbers, he’s the most capable and consistent of the creative midfielders, and often seems to be the missing link between the defensive midfield and the more forward players, something that tends to be a problem for Chelsea on their bad days. It looks like under Benitez, the role of each of the players is a bit clearer. It might call for someone to be benched from time to time, but it makes Chelsea look a lot more organized.

Only the league cup, only a championship side. But away matches in these competitions, even against opponents from lower divisions, are never easy. Leeds tried to turn it into a dirty brawl in the mud and rain, but couldn’t get anything more than a first half goal, against the direction of play. Too much class and poise from Chelsea in the second half to handle. Not looking like a team that can win the Premier League, but do look like a team that can create an impressive winning streak once again, and maybe see themselves back in the hunt for the top two spots further down the road.

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