Barcelona: Why Chelsea's Juan Mata Should Be High on Camp Nou Transfer Targets
Barcelona have already made their move for what is sure to be one of the summer's biggest transfers with the swoop for Neymar, but recent reports indicate that their re-structuring of the attack is far from over.
El Economista is reporting (in Spanish) that Juan Mata is now the top priority for the Catalan side and that they are prepared to pay up to €20 million ($25 million, £17 million) for the Chelsea forward—plus a part-exchange involving Alexis Sanchez.
That might come as news to the Chilean who recently stated the club had told him they wanted him to stay (as per Sky Sports) but what is for sure is that Mata would be a magnificent addition to the quality on show at the Camp Nou.
Here are the reasons why Barcelona should pull out all the stops to sign the Spanish attacker.
Hugely Improved 2012-13 Season in Terms of End Product as Mata Fulfils Potential
Mata managed 12 goals and 12 assists for his team this season, a terrific return in the final third which shows remarkable consistency during the Premier League campaign.
This is up considerably from 2011-12 season, when he managed a return of six goals and 13 assists for Chelsea, operating mainly from a right-sided attacking role.
Though the season just ended, Mata played in a variety of attacking roles, from either flank or through the centre, where he was able to have a stellar impact in many matches, linking well with his team-mates Oscar and Eden Hazard in particular.
Mata has long been looked upon as a player with serious quality, but 2012-13 arguably saw him surpass even those standards and put himself up with the top 20 or so players in Europe; such was his impact on the team.
In Positions He Occupies He's as Good or Better Than Barcelona's Options
Presuming Barcelona continue with their usual formation of this season, Mata would most likely fit easily into the right-sided attacking role, presently occupied by Pedro or Alexis Sanchez.
While both are very talented players, neither have been at their peak levels this term, while Mata has displayed what was probably his best performances yet. On what they have individually shown this season, Mata would arguably be picked first out of the three to play regularly from that role, with plenty of creative licence to cut infield.
He doesn't have the explosive pace of Alexis, and Pedro certainly has wonderful movement in the penalty area, but Mata is the more well-rounded player out of that trio and it would be a relatively straight-forward choice to pick him to play.
A New-Look Attacking Lineup?
With the recent confirmation of the acquisition of Neymar, Barcelona could be looking at almost a completely new attacking lineup next season—with one obvious constant remaining.
Neymar-Leo Messi-Juan Mata?
As far as attacking trios go, that is a pretty fearsome-looking one. Huge ability on the ball throughout, extremely clever movement and good vision and execution to pick a pass; Tito Vilanova would be a lucky manager indeed to be able to field that attack on a regular basis.
With the usual attack-minded, powerful overlapping runs from the full-backs, both wide forwards would be free to cut inside and get involved in the build-up play as they prefer to do. The results could be devastating; arguably the potential is as impressive as Ronaldinho-Eto'o-Messi was.
Adding Another Spanish Player to the Ranks, One Who Got Away from Real Madrid
Barcelona have been the main supply line of talent to the all-conquering Spanish side which has won back-to-back European Championships, sandwiching the FIFA World Cup in between.
Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique, the midfield trio, Victor Valdes, Pedro, David Villa and more—and adding Juan Mata, who has been in and out of the national team squad this year, would almost certainly see the Chelsea man restored on a regular basis.
It's far from the most important aspect for Barça when considering transfer targets, but it is certainly something which provides an element of pride.
Mata of course was a product of the Real Madrid academy; he never broke into the first team at the Santiago Bernabeu, instead leaving for Valencia, where he became such a star at a young age.
Now reaching the pinnacle of his career so far, it would be all the more galling for Real to realise they had paved the way for the newest Barcelona star to become such a success.
Ease the Burden of Scoring on Leo Messi
Barcelona are a phenomenal team filled with many attacking talents, but they were indebted to the goalscoring feats of Leo Messi, who has netted 41 percent of their total league strikes so far, with one match left to play.
Of course, as one of the best finishers in the world Messi will be expected to score a higher proportion of goals than most, but none of the rest of his team mates made it to a dozen strikes in the league, the figure which Mata reached for Chelsea.
Indeed, Cesc Fabregas (10 goals) is the only other Barcelona player to have reached double figures.
Alexis managed eight league goals and Pedro seven, so the goals have been shared around between a number of attackers (David Villa also hit nine and Cristian Tello seven), but a second, or third including Neymar, forward capable of hitting around 15 goals a season would take some of the relentless expectancy off Messi's shoulders.
And, if Messi simply continues to score at the same rate, Mata will merely add to an already blistering attack.
There are plenty of upsides to Barcelona signing Juan Mata, and very few downsides. Most of those that do exist are from the point of the opposing La Liga defences who would be tasked with stopping one of the best attacking trios in the continent.