Analysing Juan Mata’s Chelsea departure

On the face of it, selling twice Chelsea Player of the Year Juan Mata seems unthinkable. But in little over three days, what was merely speculation grew into serious debate and now we have confirmation of the £37.1 million transfer of Juan Mata to Manchester United.

The move seems to defy logic. The player must have done a simple cost-benefit analysis and concluded, somehow, it was wise to swap a championship contender for a team languishing in seventh place and 14 points off the top. For sure, one can conclude that the very obvious positive of making the move to Manchester for Juan Mata is the increase in game-time. Where he once was a dead cert to be in every starting line-up under Di Matteo and Benitez, Mourinho’s preference for building the team around his philosophy — as opposed to the other managers just trying to build off Mata’s form at that time — has meant the 25-year-old has been limited to a place on the bench. The player, who recorded 12 goals and 17 assists last season, has only two assists to his name this campaign.

It is a staggering fall of the man who was once the lynch-pin of Chelsea. Let us not forget the incredible goals he scored for Chelsea against Manchester United. Let us not forget it was his corner that allowed Drogba to head the equaliser in the victorious 2012 Champions League Final. It has been constantly up and up and up for Juan Mata since he scored on his debut against Norwich.

So why the sudden, drastic change?

The footballing reasons why Mata is not a starter for Chelsea is very clear. Mourinho favours players who track back and run and run and run for the team. Anyone watching the Chelsea matches this season cannot deny the likes of Hazard, Oscar or Willian a starting spot, for they have developed into fantastic tacklers, full of energy and are impressively quick. We have all been impressed this campaign by the sudden changes of pace from Hazard and his ability to score goals. Mata is a much more patient man who goes for the assist than the goal. Perhaps the lack of a main striker, who could feed off his assists, is another reason for his departure and why he is being undervalued by Mourinho.

But a player opting to transfer clubs should not be base his judgement solely on footballing reasons. Juan Mata, judging by his Instagram posts and Tweets, loved life in London. You could also argue that, even if he was not getting much match-time, times may change if the likes of Hazard gets an injury. Likewise, despite a lack of matches, surely learning from Mourinho on the training ground is better than learning how to lose from David Moyes? You have to argue which club is heading more in the right direction, too.

You have to compare and contrast the situation with others of the like. Fernando Torres, for one, seems quite content to not play every match but pick up the pay packet, the trophies and, albeit sparingly, help out his team. This move, presumably stimulated by Mata’s desire to leave, shows an unwelcome selfish side to the player that perhaps we did not fully understand.

We all know how much Juan Mata values playing. Fans and media alike were telling Mata to slow down after accumulating a record number of matches played for Chelsea, not forgetting his participation in international events like the European Championships and the Olympics for Spain. The man dismissed he was tired, much preferring to play. It is a pity now that it is his personal ambitions that have brought about this move.

Whilst Mata should not have looked at this move purely for footballing reasons, so Chelsea fans cannot — and must not — look at this departure from the emotional point-of-view either. Financially, £37 million for a player who is, truth be told, likely to warm the bench a bit more for the rest of the campaign (and so his value further decreases in the summer) is an astute business move, particularly as Chelsea reported heavy losses in the last announcement. One may also argue it brings short-term joys to Chelsea, who no longer have to play Manchester United this season, and so providing help to this team, who cannot be regarded as a rival this season, may better Manchester United’s chances of beating one of Chelsea’s main rivals. However, when Manchester United are back to full strength next season, you do wonder if this move will come back to haunt Chelsea.

Maybe there is more method to this than what meets the eye. Chelsea could have engineered a first refusal option on Wayne Rooney, for example. Maybe, behind-the-scenes, there are serious negotiations with the likes of Falcao, and so money must be generated and Mata does command a large sum.

This move does not, at present, make much sense. For Chelsea, they are waving goodbye to a fine player. For Manchester United, they are panic-buying and parting for £37 million for a player who may have rusted from his time on the bench. For the player, he is putting game-time ahead of all other factors which contribute to his footballing happiness, such as his love for London and him having already established key friendships in Torres and Azpilicueta.

This is no normal exit. Rarely has the official Chelsea twitter feed composed more than one Tweet on a player leaving, making special note to thank Juan Mata for his services. Fernando Torres posts on Instagram that he is missing “his friend” already. Juan Mata himself felt it necessary to write a heart-felt and deeply poignant 1,023-word letter, thanking the Chelsea fans for their support.

Chelsea fans, rightly so, may be upset. It does seem hard to comprehend, based on what limited information we have been given. But, in Chelsea, we have wise businessmen. In Mourinho, we have an inspirational leader and a fine strategic tactician. This move will work out. Things always do.



What We Learnt From Mourinho’s First Month Back

It is difficult and would be foolish to make a judgement on Mourinho’s return just two weeks into the season, but at first glance, the signs are mightily promising.

Progress, in football terms, most definitely is measured by the results on the field, and though we have seen wins, draws and losses in this hectic August month already, the Mourinho genes are surely coming through to the players.

The games have worked out perfectly, with the opponents getting progressively more difficult with each game. A start against a side who were in a lower league last season was followed by a side well declined from a few years ago; two wins were to be expected. Then came the big jump to playing the champions of England, before last night’s battle against the champions of Europe.

It is these steady and well-rounded August fixtures that allow fans to dissect Mourinho’s second coming. Below are three aspects of Chelsea’s game which Mourinho has altered thus far:

Eden Hazard jogs over to the corner

Eden Hazard

1. Hazard works a lot more

Mourinho, to quote, is “not the kind of guy who makes life easy for the great players… this kind of player is the last I praise”. Joe Cole will remember fondly his time with Mourinho, recalling that “he used to get on my back so much but I can’t thank him enough for it”.

And where Joe Cole was regarded a massive young star last time, the focal man is no doubt Eden Hazard. Last season, strong performances were alternated with periods of over-elaborate show-boating and he was largely overshadowed by Juan Mata as the star man.

With Mata still recovering from a busy summer, it has been left to Hazard to freely roam and showcase his tremendous skills. It would be easy for a young prodigy like Hazard to become over-arrogant and think his skills prevail over the good of the team, and Mourinho has no doubt set about to quash any emerging ego. The Belgian plays with a certain arrogance on the pitch but it is more than contained by Mourinho, who insists Hazard works for the team more than showing off his step-overs. His defensive input is there for all to see.

Where he could occasionally be caught being lazy last season, so Mourinho has tightened up on Hazard’s all-round abilities and the work-rate has rocketed. A dazzling run in the build-up to Torres’ goal, his own solo goal and his ceaseless huffing and puffing for 112 minutes against Bayern Munich was dazzling, full of spirit and energy. Expect a lot — this guy will deliver.

Frank Lampard, playing for Chelsea F.C. at the...

Frank Lampard

2. Lampard will play lots

The words of Mourinho that indicated he would only use the 35-year-old sparingly this season have totally gone against what has happened on the pitch. The Chelsea all-time top scorer has played every minute of every match thus far, and still had the energy to take a delightful penalty after 30 more minutes against Bayern Munich.

It is not as if Chelsea have been short of midfield options. Mikel is there, as is Marco van Ginkel, whilst Oscar can sit deeper too. In truth, as matches have gone on, it is the younger stars that have been substituted, with Lampard pushed to a more advanced role.

With his experience, and with Mourinho’s very high regarding of him, expect the midfielder to play the huge majority of the Premier League and Champions League games.

Juan Mata

Juan Mata

3. Chelsea can cope without Mata

Two wins, one draw, one defeat and only six goals scored may suggest Chelsea have lacked something in attack, but there have been signs that Chelsea can cope without their Player Of The Year for the last two seasons. It would be difficult to see Manchester United succeed without Robin Van Persie, or Tottenham without Gareth Bale, but Chelsea are coping well without Mata.

It cannot be argued that his presence would further boost Chelsea, but the over-reliance seen over the last two seasons has clearly taken its toll on a very energetic young man who now needs a longer break than expected.

The last two seasons has seen unsteady leadership with four managers at the helm and certain individuals, with Mata the main, have has to star without a figurehead. The figurehead is now in place so the team can shine collectively. Roll on September.

Chelsea 2-1 Aston Villa: key stats


Possession (%):  69 | 31

Passes: 677 | 286

Accuracy (%): 88 | 69

Passes In Final Third: 175 | 100

Accuracy (%): 67 | 50



Post-Season Friendlies

Chelsea embarked on a post-season trip across the pond to cap off another remarkably unpredictable season. The visit to the US 10 months ago was the start of a new Chelsea era who were in the reckoning for seven trophies. In the end, the Blues managed to secure one they were never registered for during the last visit, but it was warmly paraded and welcomed by the strong US fanbase.

Chelsea 3-4 Manchester City (Fri 24 May, 01:30 BST)

It was Rafa Benitez’s farewell tour, having left the day-to-day London offices and a chance to enjoy America and before the interim first-team manager departs, he was determined to play some youth. With tired legs after an arduous 69-game season, the likes of Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Christensen were given starts, whilst Nathan Ake and Jamal Blackman were to come off the bench.

The Blues’ youthful look was matched with some experienced heads, and it was Ba’s head from which the first goal came. Juan Mata swung in the assist, with the Senegalese striker jumping ahead of Joe Hart.

Azpilicueta buried his penalty as the Spaniard was enjoying the freedom as the evening’s right-winger to record his first Chelsea goal. It was, again, Juan Mata in the thick of the action, causing Rekik to push his over inside the box.

Two became three nine minutes after the restart. Rekik was caught daydreaming and when Ramires pinched the ball, his compatriot Oscar set off and rounded Wright for the game’s third.

With the game seemingly safe, Blackman replaced Cech, but the young goalkeeper’s first action was to pick the ball out of the net twenty seconds after coming on. Javi Garcia struck firm and low.

Milner fed a delightful through-ball to Dzeko three minutes later as the Bosnian, who was a half-time substitute for Aguero, prodded home.

Blackman stood firm in the face of a thrilling City comeback, but Dzeko grabbed his second with a first-time side-foot, before Tevez and Richards combined for the crushing winner in the 91st minute.

Chelsea 3-5 Manchester City (Sat 25 May, 22:30 BST)

After the seven-goal thriller served up in Saint Louis, an eight-goal feast was on the menu for the expectant New York crowd. In part two between ‘Chelsea and Manchester City: Stateside’, it was once again the team in lighter blue coming out as the victors.

Chelsea had started so brightly played 45 hours before, but in a change of environment and with Brian Kidd adamant his side would not concede three without reply like in New York, it was City who started brighter, and a backpass by Oscar fell woefully short. Aguero’s shot was blocked by Hilario, playing his last game for Chelsea, but Barry was running in.

Nasri made it two with a delicate chip over the onrushing goalkeeper just shy of the half-hour mark in a first half City controlled.

Chelsea got back into the game 30 seconds after the restart after Ramires’ beat the offside trap and met Luiz’s astonishing pass, before rounding home past Richard Wright.

Milner’s low drive beat Cech as City restored their two-goal advantage but yet again Ramires’ replied, this time tapping in one yard out.

Nasri put the finishing touches on a wonderful City passage of play as the scoreline became 4-2, but Juan Mata set up a tense finale as his outstanding free-kick eight minutes from time hit the underside of the bar and in: Wright was motionless.

Mata free-kick

The hopes were dashed just two minutes later, however, as Dzeko’s long-range daisy-cutter evaded Cech as Benitez’s departs Chelsea with a loss.



Chelsea 2-1 Everton

Chelsea avoided a possible play-off and secured third place thanks to a Fernando Torres winner to send Rafael Benitez out on a high.

Juan Mata had given Chelsea the lead in the seventh minute, but Naismith levelled seven minutes later. With the score remaining 1-1 until the 75th minute, one eye was on the Arsenal game, but Chelsea were left to thank Torres’ short-range bullet to preserve May’s unbeaten record.

In truth, the game was near enough a dead-rubber. Everton has secured 6th place whilst Chelsea, in 3rd or 4th, had guaranteed a Champions League berth for next season. But you would have been forgiven for thinking this would have had the intensity of a training ground match. Far from it.

Everton had the desire to make sure David Moyes signed out with a victory, and, as bizarre as it may seem 47 matches later, it seemed Chelsea had some motives to part company with Benitez with three points also. The growing respect for the Spaniard, as so often the case, comes as he is about to leave, but not without a Europa League to his CV.

And though there was little to play for, both teams respected the Premier League until the end. Chelsea handed a first Premier League start to Nathan Ake, whilst Andreas Christiensen was involved with the first-team for the first time, being on the bench. Despite the youth, there was still experimental force. Ba and Torres were starting, albeit not as a partnership with the Spaniard as the right-winger.

And on the back of that Amsterdam win mid-week, there was a real jovial atmosphere around Stamford Bridge, which was reciprocated on the field of play. Demba Ba nearly broke the deadlock three minutes in but Distin stood his ground.

The warning signs were there and Chelsea did make them pay moments later. Ba’s shot this time was saved by Howard, but Mata was on hand to score his 20th of the season.

Steven Naismith had other ideas just as Chelsea fans were hoping for a comfortable win, capitalising on a David Luiz mistake and firing past Cech, as the game started in terrific fashion.

The tempo did not cease: Everton his the post twice in an end-to-end match, whilst Torres had opportunities. Ake was holding firm, just about, in the holding midfield role, whilst his defensive partner continued to show his capabilities on the back of that one-year contract extension, nearly doubling the host’s lead on the stroke of half-time after the game’s best passage of play.

Gary Cahill’s left-foot drive was well stopped by Howard’s two hands whilst Ba had all the time in the world to score, but found Distin in his way.

So too did Oscar become fearful of the menacing Everton central defender. One on one with the Frenchman, the Brazilian opted for the long-range daisy-cutter, rather than meeting Distin man-for-man. It was a lethargic effort but a tiring season, and no doubt the sheer size of Distin on Oscar dissuaded the Brazilian from trying to race the 35-year-old.

Jelavic had a glorious opportunity to give Everton the lead but his tame left-foot try was smothered by Cech, whilst Ivanovic could not work wonders with his right foot as he did with his head on Wednesday. The Serbian had plenty of space on the penalty spot to turn and shoot, but skied it high and wide.

Torres showed his how to score, however, just two minutes later. Ba had, by now, been substituted, and so the Spaniard took up the more advanced centre forward role. Ake’s slow build-up play eventually came to Moses’, who headed down for Torres to half-volley home past Howard’s near post: 2-1.

It was the former Liverpool striker’s first goal in the Premier League for over 19 and a half hours, time spanning back to the last calendar year, but it was the crucial winner as Chelsea end another turbulent season with joy.


Benfica 1-2 Chelsea

Chelsea became the first side in history to hold both the Champions League and Europa League trophies at the same time after a stoppage-time winner from Branislav Ivanovic.

Fernando Torres, who becomes the first ever player to win the Europa League, Champions League, World Cup and the European Championship, gave the Blues the lead just before the hour mark, before Cardozo levelled from the spot eight minutes later.

But the drama continued to the very last and like in Munich, it was another Juan Mata corner that had a telling say, with Ivanovic leaping highest to ensure Chelsea of another major European trophy.

It means now Chelsea have another shot at UEFA Super Cup glory, having been taught a lesson by Atletico Madrid and Falcao last time, with either Dortmund or Bayern Munich awaiting the lucrative tie in Prague at the end of August.

No side has ever won UEFA’s top two club competitions in reverse order in successive campaigns, and whilst it may be seen as inferior to the Champions League, there was no hiding the delight of another major trophy to get the hands of.

And where last year was Drogba’s final, this was Torres and Ivanovic’s, who played little or no part in the showpiece event in Munich 361 days ago.

It caps off a remarkable year for Chelsea, who were in the running for SEVEN trophies going into the season (Community Shield, Super Cup, Club World Cup, Premier League, League Cup, FA Cup and the Champions League), but it typifies Chelsea to do the unpredictable and win a trophy they were never in the hunt for.

Rafa Benitez can now sign off with a European trophy to his CV, as can Chelsea to its history books, but it was sheer horror for Benfica. The Portuguese side were firmly in the hunt for a treble just four days ago, but a stoppage-time defeat to Porto, and another last-gasp loss here, mean they may just end their campaign with a Portuguese Cup.

It was Benfica who, in actual fact, started the match better. Despite Chelsea having won their last five encounters with Portuguese opponents, the Blues only had 38% of the possession. Cardozo set the warning signs off just two minutes in when he had a free header, whilst Gaitan similarly had chances of his own.

Perez’s menacing run brought the game’s first card against Oscar for cynically stopping him, but it incentivised Chelsea to play better.

Mata’s shot was unconventionally punched away by Artur, whilst Lampard’s swerving long-range effort was destined for the goal, only for a fantastic, acrobatic stop by the Benfica keeper.

The pulsating action did not cease going into the second half. Chelsea were exploited down a weak right-hand side of Azpilicueta and Ramires, but neither Salvio or Cardozo could take full advantage despite some wonderful Benfica passing.

Just like Ribery had the ball in the net last year, Cardozo similarly had to in the 50th minute, but was similarly dismayed to see the offside flay, correctly, be raised.

Slowly Chelsea were getting back into the game and the first goal was a real gift.

Cech’s hopeful throw out was to the centre of the park and Mata’s vital flick-on found Torres. The Spaniard showed his strength to muscle out Luisao before showing his composure and skill to first dummy a shot, before finally pulling the trigger and giving Chelsea the advantage.

The striker has had an indifferent season in the league this campaign, but there can be no denying the man in Europe. Only Ronaldo (12) and Lewandowski (10) have scored more goals than Fernando Torres (9) in Europe this season.

The lead did not last long as Azpilicueta stopped the ball with his hand as Chelsea conceded their sixth penalty in Europe this season, two more than any other side in the Europa League or Champions League. Cardozo slammed home from the spot, as Cech could not repeat his Munich heroics.

Cardozo nearly bagged a brace when the ball dropped kindly at his feet, and his half-volley drew the best out of Cech, who tipped it over with his fingertips.

Lampard, running sideways, nearly won it for the Blues as his 30 yard strike cannoned off the crossbar; it deserved to go in.

The Blues have actually won 63% of their European ties that have not involved John Terry compared to 47% when he has played, but there can be no denying his presence in the box at corners. Fear not when there is Cahill or Ivanovic, and the latter scored in the 93rd minute, powerfully planting the ball into the far corner as Benfica were shell-shocked.

There was still work to be done as Cardozo failed to get the ball out of his feet before Cahill smoothered, but by then, we were already well past the three minutes officially added on, and a new trophy is Chelsea’s.


Aston Villa 1-2 Chelsea

Frank Lampard became Chelsea’s all-time top scorer as his brace as good as seals Champions League qualification for next season.

The veteran midfielder equalised, after Christian Benteke had opened the scoring, with a thumping left-foot drive, and his winner, one minute from time, was his trademark late run into the box and a simple tap-in that brought, finally, goal number 203.

It means Lampard is now outright top scorer, overtaking Bobby Tambling. And because of his double, Chelsea are all-but guaranteed a top-four league finish due to the goal different superiority over Tottenham (+35 to +18).

The Blues would not have wanted it to be dragged out to the last match of the season, which will be David Moyes’ goodbye match at Everton, and now full concentrations can go to the Europa League match mid-week.

Chelsea are unbeaten in their past six Premier League matches, but against a relegation-threatened Aston Villa side, it was always going to be a tough call.

The reverse fixture earlier this season saw Chelsea set a new Premier League record for the most number of different scorers (7) in a match, but the goals would not be flowing in this time. Even though the West Midlands side have not kept a clean sheet in their last 20 league matches, the attacking prowess of Benteke and Agbonlahor would always test a shaky Chelsea, who let a lead slip against Tottenham mid-week. The Blues have, in actual fact, only won 23% of the last 70 games played away to Aston Villa, and with Villa looking to win 3 league matches in a row for the first time in three years, the match would go right down to the wire.

And it was The Claret And Blue side that started the better of the two, rewarded with a goal inside the first quarter of an hour. Benteke was allowed tons of room to run down the left-side after a misplaced Cahill pass, and his shot crept inside the near post of Cech to give the hosts a shock opener. Benteke is now the third-highest scorer this calendar year in Europe’s top five leagues, behind only Messi and Ronaldo.

The European Champions have scored 141 goals in 66 matches this season — the club record is 142 goals set in 2009-10 — but the record-equalling goal proved elusive.

Guzan was stopping Ba, Mata and a Lampard free-kick, and matters were made worse when Ramires needlessly picked up two yellow cards in the space of 28 minutes. The Brazilian was eventually shown his marching orders for a high foot, as the uphill battle was getting away from Chelsea.

Luiz replaced the ineffective Moses as Benitez looked to make up for the lost holding midfielder, and this gave Lampard licence to roam, whilst Luiz was composed in the defensive role.

Villa had more chances than Chelsea to score the game’s next goal, but the turning point once again was to be another second yellow card, this time for Benteke, who was again sent off for a high boot. Lee Mason showed the respected consistency.

10 versus 10 allowed Chelsea to not be so defensive and that brought the game’s first goal. Lampard scored Chelsea’s 142nd goal of the season, as well as his 202nd, in a double record-breaking move. Hazard played the ball to Lampard, and the midfielder, with his back to goal, showed a striker’s instinct by swinging around and unleashing an unstoppable left-foot strike, to record his 14th league goal of the season on his 550th Premier League appearance.

Team accomplishments always outweigh personal achievements, as showed with Lampard’s subdued celebration, as Chelsea had the best part of half an hour to score a winner.

Ba looked to have that when Cahill’s strike was stopped by Villa on the line, and Ba looked to get the vital touch that took the whole of the ball over the whole of the line, but with the incident over in a matter of milliseconds, neither Lee Mason nor the linesman could be certain it was a goal.

John Terry suffered an ankle injury on his 550th start for Chelsea in all competitions today, and whilst it would have been nice for him to be on the pitch to celebrate Lampard’s record-breaking goal, it was a phenomenal moment to see Lampard get it wearing the captain’s armband.

Hazard’s one-two with Cole penetrated the back-line and the Belgian then squared to the onrushing Lampard, to tap home his 203rd goal for Chelsea, his 165th in the Premier League, and the 999th in the Premier League this season. It means Lampard has now scored more goals versus Aston Villa than any other side in his Premier League career (13).

Aston Villa surged in the seven minutes of added time but there was no erasing Lampard’s contribution to a fine game, capped off in remarkable style. His brace means Champions League football next season. Whether he gets to savour in his and his team’s achievement next season remains to be seen.