When Jose Mourinho rocked up to Stamford Bridge for his second spell in charge of the club, supporters and pundits were bandying about terms like “dynasty” and “longevity.” Now, with Chelsea having recently sanctioned deals for Juan Mata and Michael Essien to leave the club, a new era truly beckons.
The fact that Mourinho is willing to let two players of this calibre depart says a lot about the style of football he is looking to implement at Stamford Bridge and the stylistic criteria he will be putting players up against when courting future targets.
In his first spell, when the Portuguese boss signed Essien for £24.4 million back in 2005 from Lyon, per BBC Sport, Chelsea had a squad packed full of powerful, physical players who had plenty of quality on the ball too. Essien fitted the bill perfectly, and he fast became one of the outstanding midfielders in the Premier League within Mourinho’s blueprint for dynamic, effective football.
Just short of nine years on, Essien doesn’t fit that criteria anymore, and he’s been moved on. The same, of course, could be said for Juan Mata.
Initially, there was outcry when Mourinho decided not to play the Spaniard. After two remarkable seasons at the club, Mata had been absolutely critical to Chelsea winning two European trophies and the FA Cup. Even some of the Chelsea supporters made their feelings known about what they thought of their boss leaving the club’s two-time player of the year on the bench.
But as Mata has been kept out of the side and Chelsea have started to blossom under Mourinho, you’d have to say the Portuguese boss has been vindicated. The team are really starting to click into gear and are playing a brand of football that is vibrant and eye-catching. They play at a high tempo and with a dynamism that Mata just doesn’t have in abundance.
That is no slant on the former Valencia man, by any means. He is an exceptional player who will be a major success at Manchester United. The Spaniard, like Essien, just isn’t a stylistic fit for Mourinho’s “new” Chelsea.
Mata has been one of Chelsea’s most creative talents in his two-and-a-half years at the club, but playing in that No. 10 position, he just doesn’t have the same industry or defensive awareness as Oscar, a player whom Mourinho has built his team around this campaign. The Brazilian is capable of not only driving forward with the ball, but also dropping deeper into midfield and attaching himself to opposition playmakers.
Even in the wide areas, where Mata has often played for Chelsea in his time at the club, the industry and dynamism of Willian and Andre Schurrle far outstrips that of Mata, whilst Eden Hazard has added a work rate to his game to complement his phenomenal attacking ability.
Mata will score goals for United. He’ll create goals aplenty too. But as silly as it may sound, that is not enough to make an impression on a manager like Mourinho.
Looking forward, expect Chelsea to target players who, like Essien back in 2005, are young, powerful, athletic and intelligent. Those are the sorts of characters Mourinho will want at the bedrock of his Chelsea side in the infancy of what promises to be a hugely prosperous second spell in charge of the club.