At the beginning of this new season, Jose Mourinho has courted a lot of attention for some of his rather unusual team selection. Generally, a guy who has scored and assisted a truck load of goals, along with being a two time player of the year at the club, walks into the starting 11, but not at Chelsea apparently. The Special Juan has fallen behind Oscar for a place in the starting 11 as a play-maker at the start of this season, but only time will tell which one of the two is going to make the ‘No. 10 Role’ his own.
The Oscar Corner
Tactical and Defensive Addition
The most important trait for a player who plies his trade in this position is intelligence. Of course, both Mata and Oscar possess this quality, but one feels that Oscar is a little more complete in his understanding of the game. He is a player who works hard on and off the ball. Anyone who watched the final of the Confederations Cup will remember the delay for Neymar’s goal, but not too many would have noticed him jogging back to cover for Marcelo when the left back was injured and the game continued. This is the sort of thing that coaches notice, and love, and this is the sort of thing that can often be the difference between a cheap goal and a clean sheet.
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Last season, Chelsea suffered at the hands of teams that had good midfielders in deep areas. Think of how Andrea Pirlo tormented the team, or Yaya Toure dominated them in the 4 occasions Chelsea faced City. It’s not a coincidence that Mata was the man in the No. 10 role in these games. Mata isn’t a player whose strength is his tackling. He doesn’t shy away from running around and closing down, but the quality of his defensive work pales in comparison to the quantity he often puts in. In the entirety of the 2012-13 season, Mata attempted just 25 tackles, and was successful in 14 of them. So Mata is definitely a quality player in that position, just that his weakness when it comes to defensive moves can be minimised to the advantage of the team if he is shifted elsewhere.
Continuing from where I left off in the last point, shifting Mata elsewhere may just be the solution to the problem. The team would avail of the benefits of his play-making abilities, and probably find a way to minimise his defensive weakness. However, it would be foolish to send him to a position where he would not be allowed to express himself fully. Therefore, shifting him to a slightly wide area as a play-maker from there is the solution. In this way, one still retains his attacking threat. Moreover, Mata is a player who tends to drift into these areas anyway during the course of the game. Playing Oscar centrally, and Mata wide would keep Oscar in his best position, and Mata in his best position too. This is something that Chelsea struggled with last season. Defensively as well, this will fit the bill well, as Chelsea are trying a tactic where they look to get opposition full backs forward, and win balls in the wide areas before countering. Having a player like Mata, who likes to operate in the vertical band that lies between a traditional No. 10, and a traditional winger leaves just about enough space for opposition full backs to move forward, and his personal defensive contribution is reduced to jockeying and tracking back, something he does anyway.
In the above graphs, we can see the Spaniard’s preferred position in games where he was very influential. Not only is this his natural area of operation it is also his area of strength. It therefore makes sense for Mourinho to use Oscar as the No. 10, and play Mata in this area.
Time to rest
Over the last three seasons or so, Juan Mata has played an incredible amount of football for both club and country. Last season alone, he made 64 appearances for Chelsea. This is an insane amount of games for one player, let alone one who also had a Euro behind him, and a Confederations Cup in this summer. It was easy for Rafa Benitez to play him on and on, because Benitez was appointed to ensure success for 4 months, but Mourinho needs to take decisions that can ensure success for 4 years. The long term fitness and health of Juan Mata will go a long way in aiding Chelsea’s quest for continued success. It wouldn’t be surprising if Mourinho gives Oscar a stint on the sidelines to help him recover too. A team which consists of a fresh and hungry Mata, is going to be far more threatening than a team which has a tired and jaded Mata.
All in all, there is no conspiracy, no arrogance, and no Spanish vendetta on the part of Mourinho against Mata. People came up with these theories when Casillas was benched, but they’ve been proven wrong by Carlo Ancelotti. Mourinho is a very rational and sensible manager. He is smart enough to keep players like Mata happy and maximise his chances of attaining glory. It’s no coincidence that people who criticise Mourinho the most, seem to be those who haven’t worked with him, and his biggest supporters are those who have worked closely with him.
by Vishal Patel
Because it does Mata
The real reason?
Of course we can’t infer for certain what is Mourinho’s reasoning behind leaving Mata on the bench game after game, but given his history (and me not being one of Mourinho’s great admirers), the very fact that the entire World is screaming for Mata to be played is reason enough for Mourinho to not play him.
Jose has this in-born need to ‘defy’, it goes in tandem with his natural character of being in control. It’s a valuable asset to have in your leader, but one that can often overstate one’s level of control. There’s a fine line between “the manager knows best” and “I’m the manager, I see the players on the training ground”.
Mourinho’s previous stint as manager at Chelsea was at a time when the Portuguese man was still establishing himself, his cockiness was raw. Now he has returned with the fans calling him “the messiah”; could the fans be guilty of putting him above the club? No doubt he is the greatest ever manager of Chelsea, but surely it’s not warranted even for him. It’s this factor that marks my dislike for Jose.
This obviously is pure speculation and an attempt to offer an alternative view of things. Mourinho does see the players on the field week in and week out, but does it stop there?
Debunking the Natural Position myth
Now while I will agree, ‘naturally’ Mata has been accustomed to being deployed in a wide capacity, he is more than capable of taking up that coveted central role. Below are graphical illustrations of some of Mata’s best performances, as one can see, he was placed in a central role. Even if he were to start out wide, the Spaniard was constantly seen drifting narrower and into the traditional No.10 slot.
One can’t deny, Mata has proved his worth over the last two campaigns, with the fans voting for him as their Player of the Season as well. He was the creative head of the side and everything went through him. He created, scored and made a total nuisance of himself from the perspective of the opposition. Though young, he is experienced enough to occupy the central role and dominate as well. Mata had/can still have/has the same effect on the Chelsea side that Ozil has developed at Arsenal and Coutinho has showcased at Liverpool.
Attacking variety and set-piece threat
Chelsea boast of a plethora of attacking options but intriguingly they have only one genuinely left-footed attacking option. Yes, Hazard and even Oscar are as two-footed as they come but barring the overlapping Ashley Cole, Mata is the sole player who is more comfortable on his left peg. This difference is one that a defender has to take account of. For a retreating defender, the instinct is to show the player on to his weaker foot. Thus, if Mata is deployed on the right then he’ll more often than not be shown the outside which means he’ll either have to go around the full back or dribble past him. However, in a more central part of the pitch, the Spaniard will have more options to play with. With his technical ability and commendable vision, he has the ingredients to unlock any defence. An additional advantage of playing Mata is that he provides a left-footed option for set-pieces. His ability from dead ball situations especially free kicks adds yet another weapon to Chelsea’s attacking armoury. And with Terry, Ivanovic, and Cahill all seemingly part of Mourinho’s first choice defence Mata’s in-swinging corners and free kicks from the right can serve Chelsea well, as seen only a few days ago with Terry heading home Mata’s free kick to grab a share of the points against Spurs.
by Arnab Ray & Sami Faizullah
Over to you! What do you think, Mata or Oscar? Let us know by dropping a comment below.