Stupid people have come to the conclusion that Juan Mata won't be one of Jose Mourinho's favorites, an asinine concept based on absolutely nothing. Every time Mourinho mentions the little Spaniard though, he indicates he's got a plan for him. Today, Jose had a few comments that hinted at what that plan might actually include:
"Of course he fits into my plans. I have my idea about him, about where he produces better and where he has more difficulty. We will try to help him perform better in those situations. I've always liked a right-sided player to be left-footed. I started with Robben and Duff, then [Goran] Pandev at Inter, and Di María and Ozil. Many clubs do it. It's more than a tendency."
"I like wingers coming in on the inside for the penetrative movement, for the pass, for the shot. And Juan is the only player we have to do that on the right. On the left we have Hazard, Victor Moses, Kevin De Bruyne, André Schürrle … Juan is also very comfortable playing as a No10. In between these two positions, he has a lot to give to the team."
Mourinho went on to talk about his work at Chelsea with another technically gifted number 10 that he like to push to the wing, Joe Cole:
"Joe was one of the best talents in the Premier League, and in English football, but I made his life quite difficult. We transformed his game together because he accepted what I wanted – and we turned a No10, who would come up with two or three amazing actions, into an inside-winger, left or right, who was strong defensively. He was fantastic. I was so pleased with what we did with him."
"A creative player has to use his ability and, if he loses the ball trying to create or score a goal, no problem. If he's just having fun, though, and loses the ball in midfield and then doesn't defend, and the team concede, that's a problem. These guys have to go out there to produce, not have fun or look to humiliate an opponent, putting the ball through their legs. It's about being respectful and having objectives."
You don't really have to read much between the lines to get the idea that Mourinho is leaning toward a formation with Mata on the right in our bigger matches, which would leave some combination of Kevin De Bruyne, Andre Schurrle, Eden Hazard, Victor Moses, and Oscar to fill in the other two places on our attacking line. I'd have to think that means more opportunities for Oscar to play centrally, as well as making a 4-3-3 much easier to run.
The comments on Cole are also particularly interesting, as for everything he does very well, Mata has never really been known as one of the hardest working defenders out there. The problem with Juan on a wing was always the increased defensive burden placed on the fullback*, and a real focus on improving in this regard should do wonders for making Mata that much more unstoppable.
It will be interesting to watch Mata's positioning and defensive work during the preseason tour of the US, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if we see him n the right with a real focus on tracking back. That would be fun...wouldn't it?
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