EPL Tactical: How Chelsea Will Line Up with Juan Mata
Chelsea's Sunday signing of Juan Mata from Valencia has changed the complexion of the English Premiership once again.
Previously, the excellent signings of the Manchester teams and a seemingly reinvigorated Liverpool threatened to make Chelsea's chances of reclaiming the Premiership crown exceedingly difficult.
Chelsea is, as always, a powerful and wonderfully technical team. Their back line and midfield are typically stout, their play is efficient, and their passing is clean.
However, being stout, efficient and clean are the trademarks of a great tea kettle, not of a team that wants to claim trophies in a tough football league or challenge Barcelona's hegemony over the continent.
No, a team that wants to thrive has to have imagination, rhythm and fortitude—all qualities that Chelsea lacked last season when a two month slide cost them the Premiership by mere inches.
New coach Andre Villas-Bolas was brought in for being a mastermind who's gifted with offensive play. His undefeated Porto side last season was a beauty to watch and rivaled Barcelona for displays of the best football on the continent. At Chelsea he has inherited a side largely unchanged from the days of The Special One's bruising and powerful game that grinded out two Premiership titles.
Which formation should Chelsea run?
AVB immediately began signing players that could eventually replenish the aging ranks of Chelsea in the next several seasons. Not only would this inject some youth into the aging side, but it would give him a chance to mold the team as he saw fit.
He also began tweaking the lineup in order to maximize Fernando Torres and his tough midfield. The preseason was promising, but the opening two fixtures have shown that while Chelsea can claim the ascendancy in any match with their power and technical ability, they still lacked a player that can view the field more like a canvas than a graph.
Enter Juan Mata.
Previously the third man on Valencia behind the two Davids, Mata took on the role of star and leader with brilliance and fervor last season and caught the eyes of many a manager around the continent.
Now he brings Chelsea a true winger with creative potential beyond tight crosses and muscling defenders away.
While Florent Malouda was undoubtedly the best player of Chelsea's triumph two seasons ago, and Frank Lampard was firing off goals and a great rate, both players have seemed to hit a wall.
Ramires is still more of an enforcer and dribbler than a passer, and Jon Obi Mikel lacks a partner for his extraordinarily efficient passing.
With Juan Mata now on the wing, AVB must be seeing a chance to run his preferred 4-3-3 that has also brought Chelsea three Premiership titles.
With Malouda on the left and Mata on the right, any one of the big centre-forwards can be deployed to receive service from the wings.
Ramires, Mikel and Lampard can still dominate the heart of the midfield, but now there is a safety valve to the outside that causes more individual matchup problems than most teams can handle.
If AVB decides to stick to the 4-4-2 formation that defeated West Brom this weekend, he can deploy his two star forwards and rotate out Ramires or Lampard and play a traditional English formation with more flair and finishing than any other team in the league.
Whichever the case may be, Juan Mata can alter the title race as soon as he steps onto the field and shows the world what some spark and creativity can do for the hopes of the Stamford Bridge faithful.
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