Premier League Scouting Report: Chelsea's Juan Mata
On Saturday, he assisted and scored in the Blues' 2-1 victory over Arsenal at Emirates Stadium. Then, on Tuesday, he submitted a brace in a 4-0 away win to FC Nordsjaelland (Denmark).
These performances reminded everyone just why Mata was Chelsea's Player of the Year last season, even though he had looked tired in August and some of September. He seems back on track, and the Blues will be tough as long as he's playing well.
Youth Academy Career
Mata grew up in Oviedo, Asturias and joined Real Oviedo's youth academy at 12 years old. His father had spent a majority of his career there so it only made sense for Juan Jr. to start there.
At 15, he left Oviedo and joined Real Madrid. He quickly moved up the ranks in their youth system, finally reaching Real Madrid Castilla (the reserve squad) in 2006. He scored nine goals in his only season with the reserves, which was good for second on the team.
After the season, he moved to Valencia to get regular time in the top flight.
Time at Valencia
After a little bit of luck placed him in the starting XI, Mata made the most of it. In March 2008, he scored twice in the Copa del Rey semifinal against Barcelona. In the final, Mata netted the opener in a 3-1 victory for "Los Che."
At 20 years old, Mata was named Valencia's Young Player of the Year. In the Supercup that following year, he scored the lone Valencia goal in a 2-1 home loss to Real Madrid in the opening leg. The side ended up losing 6-3 on aggregate, but it was clear that Mata could score against the best competition.
In 2008-09, he notched 20 assists in all competitions as he teamed up nicely with David Villa. Mata's stats were never quite that good again in Spain, but he continued to play well, even without Villa or David Silva (in his final season).
Mata's contributions began to be noticed around the world. Despite not being regularly featured in the Spanish national team, it became clear that he was ready to move to a big-time club.
In the summer of 2011, Chelsea obliged, bringing him in for €30 million.
First Season at Chelsea
For years, Chelsea have lacked a creative player. The side has been very good for nearly a decade now, but they've never had a player quite like Mata.
His creativity in the middle of the pitch completely changed things up for the Blues. He worked well with Fernando Torres, even if El Nino was way off form. That partnership was necessary as Chelsea began to rebuild with a new playing style in mind.
Despite Mata's inspired play, the season was going poorly for Chelsea. They weren't near the top of the table; Napoli had taken a 3-1 lead after the first leg of their Champions League clash; and it only looked like it would get worse.
Once Roberto Di Matteo was hired, though, the Blues turned things around. Mata scored the first goal under Di Matteo, finishing a sloppy play to open the scoring against Birmingham City. From there, the Blues only lost three matches for the rest of the season, including one of the most unbelievable Champions League titles of all time.
Mata was named Chelsea's Player of the Year after notching 12 goals and 20 assists in all competitions. It was his greatest year as a professional, and it gave Chelsea fans a creative player to believe in.
Spanish National Team
Depending on how you look at it, Mata has had either great luck or horrible luck with his national side.
On the positive side, he has been a part of the most dominating country in the history of international football. He has won two major tournaments with Spain, as La Roja marched to three straight.
Nevertheless, Mata has not done a whole lot to contribute. He came on as a substitute once in the World Cup. Similarly, he came on as a late sub in the Euro Final. However, Mata scored a goal in that match, sealing the deal at 4-0.
Right now, Spain have five of the best midfielders in the world. And, believe it or not, Mata is not one of them. As for his horrible luck, Mata is stuck behind some of the most talented midfielders in recent memory.
He'll get his chance soon, but for now, Mata will be stuck on the bench for Spain, watching his country continue to dominate the world.
Despite struggling to sneak into the national team's starting XI, Mata fits in very nicely at Chelsea.
Just 14 months ago, people were doubting whether or not the Blues would ever undergo a youth makeover. Now, there are six midfielders/wingers under the age of 26 getting regular playing time. Chelsea are just fine now, and they'll only get better.
Last year, Mata played in a more central position, allowing him to make plays all over the field. Now, with Oscar proving his worth, Mata is able to stay in his natural position on the right wing, drifting in when necessary. Mata's play is creative, but it is done in a surprisingly meticulous fashion, making him incredibly fun to watch.
The little Spaniard dribbles with focus and determination, sizing up every angle before making a calculated pass. Even after moving to a more central role, Mata didn't have a problem finding space. And now that he's back on the wing, Mata will have all the space he'll ever need.
Mata is only 24 years old, but if his career up to this point is any indication, great things are yet to come.
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