Creativity. It has been missing from a Chelsea lineup for as long as I can remember. It was never a focal point of the Mourinho era, the team was built on an efficient and dynamic team with an explosive midfield and impenetrable defence. With that no longer the case as the players who provided that glory have lost a step in their physicality and overall play, there has been a struggle in always finding a solution or a route to the opposition goal. In the summer transfer window, Chelsea acquired the services of Juan Mata from Valencia after an impressive couple of seasons for the Spanish club which saw him apart of the World Cup winning squad and was remembered for a sensational piece of skill during training, Mata was brought in to fill the void that is a lack of creativity. The playmaker has been a revelation at the club. Ask any fan and they will probably say he’s been the best player this season if not, amongst one of the best.
Since his arrival, Mata has delighted Chelsea fans with his performances and in particular his brilliant control and skill on the ball. He’s provided an entertainment that has not existed at the ground arguably since Arjen Robben was last seen whizzing in and out of defences with a left foot just as dangerous as the one Juan Mata possesses. Capable of providing that killer ball that is lacking from the arsenal of all the other midfielders in the team and having been initially a striker in his youth days at the Real Madrid ‘Castilla’ he has showed clinical ability in front of goal when called upon, his versatility is one of many attributes that has led to his initial success. He is a threat from set pieces as well, coming close on several free kick attempts being denied more by the post than anything else. He has been a breath of fresh air amidst a disappointing season, rarely have players at the club received the ball and immediately looked to attack the defence and is a big part as to why the fans have taken to him so well.
You only need to look at the stats to see the impact Mata has had. On top of the 10 goals and 13 assists he has amassed in all competitions, the little Spaniard also leads the Premier League in chances created per game or key passes per game with 3.1 (via whoscored.com) and that is with a team which has struggled throughout the season especially with out of form strikers. His performances have been consistent right through the campaign, causing the opposition trouble whenever he is on the ball. His importance to the team cannot be stressed, it has also been noticed by the other clubs who now seemingly target Mata in challenges on a regular basis and aim to physically impose their presence on the smaller Mata, a sort of “Stop Mata, stop Chelsea” theory.
So there are the positives. Mata is brilliant, but he could be better at Chelsea. Here is why; Regular criticism befalls the team and especially the attack with regards to their movement off the ball. Laborious and non-existent is usually how it can be summed up. The tempo of passing and movement is lethargic at best some times. The exception usually being Juan Mata, he’s constantly in a state of motion finding holes in between lines and being a general nuisance to anyone marking him, yet he doesn’t find himself on the ball half as much as he should. The club I’m sure realise this and would’ve been one of the main reasons why Mata was moved to a more central role and although he has had a bigger impact through the middle it is still open to further progress. Another problem that stems from the same issue is that when he is on the ball he is limited in his options, the runs made by team mates are minimalistic and often provide no support for Mata who has to resort to playing the ball back towards his own goal.
The argument as to why he doesn’t see enough of the ball, is one that the rest of the team doesn’t share his creative genius and you wouldn’t find too many people who would oppose it. The same criticism was used to explain the sudden decline in Shevchenko’s ability, how true that is we will never know. But time and time again, players on the ball delay their pass to an open Mata, the window of opportunity then abruptly closes and the tempo of the move is slowed down to a halt. Some people tend to wonder why Mata appears to tire by the end of 90 minutes in most games, it is because he is always moving to look for the ball!
The club have as stated before already adopted a different formation to accommodate Mata in a more central role. The club also have in Oriol Romeu (another summer purchase) a player that can play passes in between players and help Mata have a bigger influence, however since his injury he has found it difficult to find himself back into the first team. The signs are there that Chelsea want to move into a new style of play that focuses on creativity and it should be a priority in the coming transfer window, that players are brought in to suit the style of play.
Chelsea have already been linked with various players that will no doubt help this cause. Lille’s Eden Hazard and Sao Paulo’s Lucas Moura are but two of world’s brightest young talents and are known for their creative ability, if Chelsea were to have more than just one creative threat, the opposition will find it difficult to just focus their containment on Mata. Strikers like Falcao or Edinson Cavani are not only world class finishers but their movement off the ball and work rate is incredibly admirable and would only benefit Mata’s game to have outlets like them, now more than ever the team is in need of fresh faces and it is a perfect chance to make someone like Mata the player to build around.
“There’s only Juan Manuel Mata” at the Bridge, but wouldn’t it be marvellous if there were more? The summer transfer window this season will be met with more hope than ever after Roman’s promise to revitalise the squad. Hopefully all the signings will have a similar impact to that of Mata and restore the club’s ambition of fighting for honours in every competition.