Steaua Bucuresti vs. Chelsea: Jose Mourinho Must Trust Juan Mata in Romania
Jose Mourinho may have told the press that he was the Happy One on his return to Stamford Bridge, but in truth, he left Real Madrid a wounded man.
With his trophy-winning form constrained by Barcelona and his self-belief shaken, he arrived back at his old stomping grounds with much to prove to his own ego, let alone his many doubters.
His final year at Madrid passed without major glory but plenty of drama, with Mourinho alienating a section of the club's supporters by instigating a public dispute with fan favourite Iker Casillas. It seems that he has now sought to create a similar conflict with Juan Mata.
Finding parallels between football managers and fictional crime bosses may have a popular refuge for the sportswriter of late, but given the circumstances of Mourinho's return to the Premier League, his kinship with a certain New Jersey TV mafia boss is undeniable.
In the seventh series of the hit HBO drama The Sopranos, Tony Soprano was forced to deal with a similar situation after being admitted to hospital. Entering his gang's hideout to find them enjoying life in his absence, he realised his time out of action had left some of those under his command judging him to be weak and sensing opportunity.
The bulky, middle-aged Soprano quickly identified the toughest looking individual in the room and set about reasserting his authority by attacking his muscle-bound bodyguard, Perry Annunziata, in front of his shocked crew.
Standing over his younger, fitter and bloodied adversary—seemingly unscathed—there was no doubt in the room that Soprano remained the alpha male.
Mourinho has taken a similar approach with Mata.
While Soprano may have attempted to provoke a fight by barracking his quarry over a fridge door he didn't slam, the Portuguese has consistently moaned about Mata's need to adapt and work harder.
Yet over the past two seasons, the former Valencia player has so often been the player around which Chelsea's comebacks have been forged, driving his side on as their most decisive, industrious playmaker.
John Terry may have been captain and Frank Lampard the club's veteran icon, but before Mourinho's second coming, it was the Spaniard who replaced Didier Drogba as the team's most reliable and resourceful star player.
In the 2012 FA Cup Final, Mata was named Man of the Match. While in the 2012 Champions League and 2013 Europa League finals, he provided key assists at crucial times to help the club lift major silverware.
Mata has even left his mark on certain rivalries, with his personal duels against Manchester United's David De Gea from dead-ball situations now an indelible feature of the clashes between the two clubs—when he plays.
Has Mourinho treated Juan Mata unfairly?
Having watched his side slump to a shock 2-1 home defeat against Basel in their opening Champions League Group E match, Mourinho may feel that the need to prove his point is now outweighed by his demand to qualify for the knockout stages out of "personal pride," per ESPN.
Fortunately, Mata is exactly the sort of player he needs to add some spark to his dreary and uninspired Chelsea side, if he can find it within himself to trust the Spaniard without losing face.
Steaua Bucuresti would always have been a match from which Mourinho would liked to have taken three points, but now his side's away trip to Romania is almost a must-win with Schalke and Basel ready to press their advantage should Group E's favourites make any further slips.
For the former Special One, falling into the Europa League would do far more damage to his power base than he could ever hope to recover from picking on any rival talisman.
The pressure is on for the boss to prove his actions were for the good of his crew rather than his own vain mind games.
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