Juan Mata's Performance Against Tottenham Must Put Him Back in Good Graces
It seems that Juan Mata is out of the doghouse.
After Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho inexplicably dropped Mata for the match against Fulham and elevated Oscar to fill his role, Mata was called upon Saturday against Tottenham to help Chelsea come back from a 1-0 deficit.
Mata was brilliant in the second 45 minutes. He was all over the pitch, setting up teammates and had the assist on John Terry's tying goal.
GOAL: 1-1, Blues are level, John Terry heads home from Mata's free-kick, well deserved equaliser for Chelsea. #CFCLive— Chelsea FC (@chelseafc) September 28, 2013
His entrance into the game took the momentum away from the Spurs.
While Chelsea was unable to take the lead, the 1-1 draw was a positive result for the Blues. More importantly, it signaled that Mata will resume his role as an instrumental player for the squad.
There is no doubting that Mata is Chelsea's best player, and the Spainard should play a big role for his country in the World Cup. Mata scored 12 Premier League goals last year, second most at Stamford Bridge, and also contributed 12 assists.
While the decision to bench Mata, on its face, looked like a slap to the face of the team's best player, Mourinho's motives may have been more diabolical than that. Mata played his best game in some time against Tottenham and was clearly the best player on the pitch, for either team. Did Mourinho do this on purpose to get his game going? Did Mourinho purposely take the heat to ensure that Mata played at his best?
I'm not sure about that, but now that Mata absolutely dominated Tottenham, Mourinho is doing the smart thing by starting Mata against Steaua.
Mata should, theoretically, remain in the starting lineup for the rest of the year. Mourinho really has no choice—Mata is too good, and the team is simply not good enough without him. Yes, Mata doesn't really play defense, and today's performance consisted of him basically toe-poking the ball away from opposing players on the defensive half. But he's too good overall to leave him on the bench. If Mourinho wants to create a new identity for Chelsea, then the message sent to Mata was enough. Now he just has to play.
Mata has to know he needs to be more responsible defensively to play, and while he will never track backwards, at least it looked like he was trying against the Spurs. His entrance off the bench lifted Chelsea from a moribund team to an exciting one.
The Mata-Mourinho row should, hopefully, be over. It didn't do anybody any good, except for creating an unnecessary media frenzy. Mourinho is too good of a manager to keep his best player on the bench for much longer. Starting Mata against Steaua is the right and prudent move.
Mourinho needs to keep Mata in the lineup. The boost Mata gave Chelsea when he came off the bench was undeniable. He deserves to be back in the manager's good graces.
The more Mata plays, the better chance Chelsea has to win. It's as simple as that.
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