Is Oscar's Injury the Perfect Opportunity for Mata to Regain His Chelsea Place?

Garry HayesFeatured ColumnistDecember 3, 2013

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 19: Juan Mata of Chelsea in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Cardiff City at Stamford Bridge on October 19, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images)
Scott Heavey/Getty Images

As Juan Mata stepped up to receive his Player of the Year award in May, few would have predicted that just six months later he would be playing for his Chelsea future.

That's where the Spaniard is right now, though. A two-time Chelsea Player of the Year and hero to the Blues faithful, he faces an uncertain future in West London.

Marginalized by Jose Mourinho, he has been seen more on Chelsea's bench this season than he has on the pitch.

Rather, it is Oscar who is becoming the lynchpin of Mourinho's new-look Chelsea. The Brazilian is the player in which this team is being built around, and it has seemed there is no place for Mata as a result.

Until now, that is.

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 01:  Demba Ba of Chelsea (L) celebrates with Juan Mata (R) as he scores their third goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Southampton at Stamford Bridge on December 1, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Following the news Oscar will sit out Chelsea's trip to Sunderland this week on account of an injury picked up on the weekend, Mata has been gifted the perfect opportunity to show his manager just why he should be a permanent fixture at Stamford Bridge.

On the back of his performance against Southampton on Sunday, Mata must be a certainty to start against the Black Cats.

He wasn't exactly at his inspirational best in that 3-1 victory over the Saints, but he would have been pleased enough to finish the game with an assist, playing his part in an impressive Chelsea comeback.

Not only that, without his Brazilian teammate in the lineup, No. 10 duties will fall on Mata at the Stadium of Light—one of the few times he has had the opportunity this term.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 14:  Juan Mata of Chelsea is replaced by Oscar during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Chelsea at Goodison Park on September 14, 2013 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)
Chris Brunskill/Getty Images

Indeed, playing through the middle is where Mata's strength's lie. He doesn't possess the pace required of those on the flanks and besides, he has the vision and guile to unlock defences from the middle.

It's not only that, however. Chelsea have endured a somewhat inconsistent campaign. Brilliant one week, but they have scraped draws or suffered agonizing defeats just days later, and it's clear they are far from being the finished article.

Mourinho is looking for answers and Mata playing against Sunderland will be looking to give him one.

The biggest issue with Chelsea right now is their combinations. For all the talent they have, the right partnerships simply haven't been found.

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 01:  Juan Mata of Chelsea battles with Victor Wanyama of Southampton during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Southampton at Stamford Bridge on December 1, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty
Ian Walton/Getty Images

On defence, the John Terry-Gary Cahill partnership is beginning to blossom, yet further forward, Chelsea can appear somewhat disjointed.

Is that because Mata isn't featuring? Should Oscar give up his No. 10 role for his teammate and play a little wider?

Wednesday night isn't going to answer those questions, although it will allow Mourinho to consider them a little more.

The focus has been on Mata for much of 2013-14, but for the wrong reasons. Now we will be watching him as the fulcrum of Chelsea's attack once again and he must rise to the occasion. It's too big an opportunity not to.

Garry Hayes is Bleacher Report's lead Chelsea correspondent and will be following the club from a London base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here @garryhayes