Andre Villas-Boas has risked angering Jose Mourinho ahead of this weekend’s London derby by reminding out-of-favour midfielder Juan Mata he always played when under his reign at Chelsea.
Villas-Boas, now of Tottenham, confirmed his club tried to sign Mata in the summer—according to Neil Ashton of the Daily Mail—and he took the opportunity to massage the player’s ego ahead of Saturday’s meeting.
Ashton quotes the Spurs boss, saying:
It’s not my decision now to pick or not pick at Chelsea, but he was always involved in my starting XI.
I enjoyed a good personal and professional relationship with him. He will overcome this and he’s a special player.
Mata is currently displaying a fine attitude at Chelsea, responding to Mourinho’s decision to drop him by turning in an effervescent display in the midweek League Cup win at Swindon.
The Spaniard created the first goal of the night for Fernando Torres and made his presence known defensively, closing down so much that he initiated six challenges across the 90 minutes, per Whoscored.
However, Saturday’s derby clash will be a better indicator of whether he is making an impression on Mourinho, who is yet to play Mata for a full 90 minutes in the league this season. Oscar is the preferred choice, a stunning predicament in which for Chelsea’s Player of Year to find himself.
Should the current situation extend toward January, Mata will surely become fed up with his lack of first-team action—particularly in a World Cup year.
Juan Mata doesn't work hard enough? Ask the defenders he bamboozles with killer passes. His laziness is lethal.— Paul Hayward (@_PaulHayward) September 22, 2013
Villas-Boas selected the playmaker on 35 occasions during his nine months at Chelsea and remains an interested suitor, according to John Edwards of the Daily Mail. However, Edwards claims the player’s former club Valencia lead the race for his signature:
Valencia believe they are the surprise front runners after cooking up a plan to bring the 25-year-old back to the Mestalla Stadium.
It’s thought they have already begun the process of speaking to sponsors and local businesses in a bid to raise extra to finance a £25 million deal.
Valencia, who have been racked with financial problems in recent years, hope that Mata would force the switch and could even accept a lower wage to return to the club where he is still loved.
What would be the best move for Mata?
It would be difficult for Mata to resist the lure of a switch back to La Liga in a World Cup year, which would hand him the greatest window to impress Spanish selectors.
He is also loved by the Mestalla fanbase, who witnessed him score 33 goals in 129 league outings as he became one of the most feared forwards in La Liga.
For now, Mata’s ideal scenario would be for all speculation to be rendered moot as he fights his way back into the Chelsea team. However, Spurs are building a side who play the quick passing game he loves, and they could offer him a tempting escape route if he wishes to stay in London.