Every renowned orchestra needs a great conductor, and it’s getting pretty obvious now that Chelsea’s is Juan Mata.
With Blues main man Didier Drogba now just a wonderful memory, Fernando Torres still a big variable, Frank Lampard, John Terry and Petr Čech all over 30 years old now and Eden Hazard and Oscar still very young and extremely fresh at Stamford Bridge, it seems the young Spaniard has suddenly evolved into the most important player on the club.
In his last five matches for Chelsea, Mata has registered six assists and has scored four goals. He now leads the Blues in assists and is the team’s second-leading goal scorer in all competitions behind fellow countryman Torres.
Mata failed to record a single point in the team’s first six games, but the 5’9” attacking midfielder had to be a little bit worn down at the end of the summer. Especially after leading Chelsea to its FA Cup win and its first UEFA Champions League crown in May, helping his native Spain win Euro 2012 in July and then playing for La Furia Roja in its disappointing, goalless showing in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
But the ostensibly rejuvenated Mata—who was recently left off Spain’s World Cup qualifiers roster by coach Vicente del Bosque—has been on absolute fire of late for first-place Chelsea which resumes English Premier League play on Saturday in a London derby against Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane (Sky Sports, ESPN2, 12:45 p.m. GMT/7:45 a.m. ET).
Mata came to west London a little more than a year ago from La Liga and Valencia for £23.5 million and quickly made his mark. He showed he could both pass and score—depending on what the Blues needed—and ended the club’s disappointing league campaign with six goals and 13 assists and was justly named Chelsea's Player of the Season.
From 2007 to 2011, Mata played with Los Che and Valencia and went to Mestalla from Real Madrid after failing to break through with Los Blancos after playing for the club’s second team, Real Madrid Castilla, in 2006/2007.
Mata also captained Spain’s championship 2011 UEFA European Under-21 squad in Denmark and won the Golden Player award and was named a member of the Team of the Tournament.
With Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich’s recent desire to turn the Blues into more of a Barcelona-style, tiki-taka team on offense with smaller players and an emphasis on quick, short passing and ball possession, getting Mata last August was a brilliant first step.
And with fellow midfielders Hazard, Oscar and Marko Marin all acquired over the summer transfer window, Mata now has some talented young attackers in his own Lionel Messi-type mold to, hopefully, play alongside for years to come in Chelsea’s new-look attack.
Besides now being the straw that stirs the drink in the middle of the Blues offense, Mata will also be able to help these flashy new attacking midfielders Hazard (Belgium), Oscar (Brazil) and Marin (Germany) with their cultural transformation as all three have to quickly get used to playing in a new city, country and league.
With his calm and happy-go-lucky demeanor, Mata is the perfect guy to help these new young teammates adjust to life in Londontown and the rough and tumble EPL.
Probably the most beneficial characteristic the versatile Mata displays on the pitch—like Argentinian maestro Messi—is his ability to make quick decisions on whether to shoot or pass at exactly the right time. Comparisons to former Valencia teammate David Silva and Chelsea legend Gianfranco Zola so far seem warranted.
Besides the versatility, ability to make quick decisions and creative spark Mata provides on the attack, he is also very fast, possesses great technical ability and is incredibly unselfish and could probably have many more goals for himself if he wasn’t such a team player.
And that’s an endearing quality that is very hard to instill in most young players.
At age 24, Mata has already been a member of a UEFA European Under-21 winning squad, a World Cup victor (Spain in 2010), an FA Cup champion and a UEFA Champions League titlist. Let’s hope he has "EPL champion" up next on his list.
While others sing the praises of extraordinary Spanish playmakers like Xavi, Andrés Iniesta, Santi Cazorla and Xabi Alonso—and justly so—Chelsea and its fans are more than happy to have Mata acting as the conductor of its new-look offense which is currently tied for second in the Premiership with Fulham and Manchester City with 15 goals.
After his slow start this season, Mata is seemingly back to his weekly Man of the Match form. If he can keep it up and help El Niño become the striker the Blues thought he could be when they signed him for £50 million from Liverpool in January of 2011, then Chelsea and manager Roberto Di Matteo certainly can hope to win the EPL, repeat as FA Cup champs and possibly make a run at defending its first-ever Champions League crown.
And should the Blues fall short this year on any or all of these extremely lofty European football goals, at least Chelsea and its fans can sleep soundly knowing Mata’s contract will keep him at Stamford Bridge until at least June 30, 2016 when it expires. It has one phenomenal player to keep building around until then.
So let the new royal blue orchestra play on.
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