Jose Mourinho Uses Capital One Cup to Continue Juan Mata's Chelsea Re-Education
During his first spell in charge at Chelsea, the Portuguese manager's reign coincided with a kind of renaissance for what we now know as the Capital One Cup. Once seen by some as a competition for blooding youth, Mourinho helped change the fortunes of the League Cup with his bold approach of fielding a strong lineup in each round, striving to deliver that all-important first piece of silverware in his Stamford Bridge tenure.
When Chelsea stepped out at the County Ground to face Swindon Town on Tuesday evening, it was as if nothing had changed.
Mourinho could very well have rested many of his stars ahead of this weekend's trip to White Hart Lane to face Tottenham Hotspur. He saw things differently, though.
Rather than ease up on the schedule, this was his opportunity to fine-tune his squad as he continues to learn about the players he has at his disposal.
In came David Luiz and Fernando Torres, but most importantly, Juan Mata was also among those reinstated. The exclusion of Mata in recent weeks has been well documented in the media, but Tuesday provided an opportunity for the Spaniard to continue his adaptation to Mourinho's philosophy.
And he did.
Facing the Robins had shades of 2004-05 about it. Back then it was West Ham United who Chelsea faced in their opening game of the competition—then sponsored by Carling—with the Hammers fielding a team hardly recognized as being a first-choice squad.
With Ricardo Carvalho, William Gallas and Joe Cole starting for Chelsea, it was a more positive approach from Mourinho in comparison. While the game finished with a narrow 1-0 result in the Blues' favor, his team would feel the benefit of competitive game time together a whole lot more over the course of the season.
Defeating Swindon 2-0 will have the same impact, especially after the shaky form Chelsea have experienced of late.
Back-to-back victories, however strong the opposition is deemed to be, will only help the Blues. It's about the little steps, which eventually become bigger strides as confidence builds. Their recent victory over Fulham, coupled with progression in the Capital One Cup, has put them back on the wagon.
If anything, Mata was perhaps the main beneficiary at the County Ground. Torres may have doubled his tally for the season when he opened the scores before setting up Ramires for the second, but his compatriot got the 90 minutes of competitive action that he needed.
It wasn't a vintage performance by any stretch, and for what Mourinho is demanding of Mata, it's clear the adaptation has much work remaining, but it's another positive move.
The Confederations Cup robbed Mata of a preseason with his new coach, where his new role would have been refined and worked on. Now he's playing catch-up, and Tuesday's encounter was the ideal moment for him to step up.
Mourinho used the same approach almost a decade ago, bringing his multi-talented team together in an exercise of bonding and understanding in a competitive environment.
He's doing it once more, and for that Mata will be thankful. In time, so will Chelsea fans.
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