With Juan Mata’s transfer from Chelsea on the verge of being completed, we’ve once again turned to Joe from over at Plains of Almeria for a bit of insight…
Do I have to do this? Really? I’ve just made it through the day with my “f**k off and let me digest that Mata is leaving” face on. Okay, here we go.
1) What kind of a player have United signed and how capable is he of playing different roles?
United have signed, in my opinion, the best classic number ten in world football. While he can operate wide his lack of pace and defensive instincts, something I will touch upon later, means he can be ineffective against top class opposition out there.
He is at his best in a free role behind the striker and despite popular opinion does quite well as a support striker – he therefore might fit your 4-4-1-1 formation. Tactical flexibility is not why you sign Mata, you play him to build a side around him. I think having greater quality in midfield behind him drastically removes any burden on him to work for the team and that is when he is at his best.
His statistics do speak for themselves – he is a creative genius in the right environment.
2) How do you think United could best use him, particularly given the players we already have?
I look at United’s team and see significant weaknesses at centre back, central midfield and a lack of quality depth. For me his arrival would dictate a change of shape to a more rigid 4-2-3-1 with Mata at the heart of it. Rooney, Mata, Januzaj; Van Persie looks potent on paper, but being backed up by a plodding midfield might entirely unbalance the side. If I am running Manchester United I am buying a new spine to the team and not Mata.
If you signed two athletic midfielders to compensate for the defensive imbalance fielding Januzaj/Mata would cause then it would definitely provide the attacking foundation that United fans have traditionally become accustomed to. I think this provides more questions than answers, but being honest you’re not going to see Ashley Young again so I guess you’re winning.
3) There were rumours last summer that Mourinho wasn’t keen on Mata, why’s this all come about?
Ultimately Mourinho is all about the team ethic. You only need to look at the work rate of Oscar and Willian to see exactly what Mourinho wants from his forwards. Frank Lampard even recently stated his amazement in the defensive work Eden Hazard was doing now. No player is above the team. It became apparent recently that Mourinho was looking to reshape the squad, built in my opinion for Pep Guardiola, back to one capable of robustly competing and winning league titles.
Mata’s silky skills and artistry are at odds with the technical, pacey and powerful players Mourinho wants to deploy as his forward options. Mata tried to adapt his game but with Oscar in such sparkling form, both scoring, creating and winning possession back with ease, he really could only sit and watch as we won match after match. Chelsea will no doubt reinvest the money to sign a left-back, centre-back and striker in the summer – and long-term those signings could elevate this squad back to 2004-06/2009-10 levels.
4) Arguably he’s been Chelsea’s best player the last couple of years and is a fans’ favourite so what’s the reaction been to selling him and does it change your emotions towards Mourinho at all?
The reaction has been mixed but Mourinho’s revelation that Mata asked for the move hasn’t gone down particularly well. This season he has been usurped by Eden Hazard who quite frankly is looking like one of the best players Chelsea have ever had since he has bought into Mourinho.
I would always back the long-term ambition of the club over a single player. If anything and probably to the ire of any non-Chelsea fan it signals Mourinho is very much back in power and more than likely looking at a very long-term role. As with my point above Mourinho has reshaped this Chelsea squad to play some of their best football in years. This is without a world class striker. The players at his disposal under the age of 27 is quite amazing and you would have to think if Chelsea add a top quality striker this summer the Mata transfer will seem like an amazing deal. If you use him right it will strengthen you, but Moyes reluctance to use Kagawa and archaic ideas might not play to Mata’s strengths.
5) Tell us a bit more about why Mata’s such a Chelsea favourite…
For a club that has its fair share of controversial characters it has been a joy to have someone like Mata represent Chelsea. Shunning the Surrey mansion lifestyle he chose to live in the City and resembles a Spanish student (albeit impeccably dressed) as he discovered London. More likely to be seen in Brick Lane or an exhibition than any ridiculous night club, he got the club and its fans. Everything about him screams class and in a world full of millionaire scumbag footballers he is a rare beacon of light.
6) Finally, how do you feel towards Mata now he’s gone to United?
Ambivalent. I will always rate him but the fact he has downed tools so soon into a slightly troubled time will grate with me for a while. Drogba went through a host of difficult times at the club but left in the best way possible. There have been times that Lampard and Terry were both being sidelined by managers.
Thanks as ever to Joe. Have a read of his more detailed thoughts on how this transfer impacts Chelsea – http://plainsofalmeria.co.uk/2014/01/24/the-politics-of-stamford-bridge/