Jose Mourinho once coined the phrase “untouchables” during his first spell at Chelsea, but ahead of Tuesday’s League Cup clash at Swindon, he has challenged Juan Mata and Co. to make themselves automatic selections.
Mata is tipped to start at the County Ground—a clear indicator of how far he has fallen in the Chelsea pecking order as Mourinho rests some of his first-choice players. Richard Sharpe of the Daily Mail reports:
Juan Mata will begin his battle to force his way back into manager Jose Mourinho's first-team plans by starting for Chelsea at Swindon...
David Luiz, who was also dropped from Mourinho's squad on Saturday, is expected to force his way back into the starting XI too, while Fernando Torres could feature from the outset.
Mourinho once had a backbone to his Chelsea side that was entirely predictable for important matches. Petr Cech, Ashley Cole, John Terry, Ricardo Carvalho, Frank Lampard, Michael Essien, Claude Makelele and Didier Drogba were all “untouchable,” leaving the Portuguese to fine-tune the fringes of the side.
Right now, the Chelsea boss will only go as far as naming Branislav Ivanovic as an easy first-team pick, warning his star-studded squad it is up to them to earn their shirts. According to Sky Sports, when asked if he knew his best team Mourinho replied:
Of course, I don't know... But the players have to give me the answers. I cannot dig and dig and dig looking for the best team. The players must give me the answer.
Do I have a doubt that [Branislav] Ivanovic is in this moment my right-back? I have no doubt. You see the way the guy performs. So it is up to them.
If somebody is waiting for me to give shirts because of status and history, that's not the point. Of course, I have some doubts in some positions and I think it's normal.
Mourinho explained over the weekend that Oscar is currently ahead of Mata in the Chelsea lineup because the Spaniard has to adapt the way he defends. He told Sky Sports in a TV interview, per Sharpe’s article:
I think the evolution of the team and the way I want to play, Mata and Oscar can play together. I want that.
For that, Juan has to work and has to adapt to a certain way of playing because I'm not ready to change Oscar's position.
Oscar as a number 10 is a player who gives us creativity, but at the same time, when we want to press up, Oscar is a runner and he is a player capable of pressing. Even when we play against a double pivot, like Sidwell and Parker for example, who have a distance of 15-20 metres between them.
Mourinho’s explanation focuses on what Mata does off the ball, rather than on it. Oscar occupies multiple players with his movement and pressing of the ball, whereas Mata likes to reserve his energy.
Basel’s equaliser in Chelsea’s recent Champions League defeat highlighted Mata’s lack of defensive understanding as he floated back, allowing Basel an unchallenged cross from the left flank. It was an indirect cause of the goal, but one that nonetheless displeased Mourinho.
Should Mata be starting for Chelsea?
The likes of Andre Schurrle and Kevin De Bruyne, preferred to Mata on occasions this term, have so far failed to show the imagination possessed by the Chelsea No. 10 on the ball, but they are better athletes and more willing to get around the pitch for Mourinho.
Mata’s best option, whether he agrees with his manager or not, is to give 100 percent against Swindon in a game he might typically have cruised. It is up to the former Valencia man to show Mourinho he is untouchable, even if it means doing so at the cost of the 20 goals and 28 assists he supplied last season.