A lot has been made of the treatment Juan Mata has been recieving at Chelsea of late, a lot of people feel that he has been treated unfarly by Jose Mourinho. This view was compounded by the decision to leave the playmaker out of the entire squad for the Fulham game. While I dont agree with the fact that Mata had to be left out of the squad altogether, I think a lot of people are overreacting to the quotes from Mourinho in the past 24 hours.
Juan Mata played a lot of games for Chelsea last season, and immediately after the season ended, he was off to Brazil with his national team. After that, he joine up with Chelsea at the US after an extended break along with Torres, Oscar, Luiz, Azpilicueta, and Mikel. During that preseason he only got to play in one match before suffering an injury that ruled him out of the rest of preseason. He didn't recover from that injury till Chelsea's match vs Aston Villa a match in which he was admittedly poor but clearly lacking match fitness. Fitness which he had time to gain after he was left out of Spain's squad for their september qualifiers. Before the match vs Everton, Mata confirmed his fitness. True to his word he started the game, and although he was pulled off, I find it hard to believe that he was significantly worse than any other player on the pitch that day. Next game was the home loss to Basel in which he came on as a sub and could not do anything to change the result. The point of this, while there are surely technical issues as to why Mourinho has decided that the team is best without him for now, the truth is he has not had the time and fitness to try to adapt to what Mourinho wants from him. Let's look at some of the key points from Mourinho's words in the last few days:
OSCAR IS HIS NO 10
Mourinho clearly has indicated that he is looking to build a team with Oscar as the No. 10. This is not something that someone can come out and say is wrong, Mata and Oscar are entirely different players. Who you would prefer to play in a certain role depends on how what each player brings to the table correlates with what the coach wants and expects from a player playing that position in his setup. For example Pep goes into Bayern and decides he prefers to see Javi Martinez at CB and Lahm in the Centre of midfield cos he believes that in his current setup that's where both players can best serve the team. Another thing has to be noted, Mourinho did not rule out Juan Mata from his starting 11, He only said Oscar is his pick at one of the positions that Mata can play and that Mata has to adapt to that. Its similar to when Moyes said Rooney could play up front if RVP got injured, most took it as Rooney being a 2nd choice player on the bench. So the path to Chelsea's starting XI is not unclear to the spaniard.
So what are the reasons that Mourinho could prefer Oscar to Mata in that position? The first and most obvious answer is that Oscar is better defensively than Mata. Mourinho has had to deal with Ozil's insufficient defensive capabilities and the fact that he doesn't drop deep often have lost Real a substantial amount of games. The CL 11/12 Semi vs Bayern comes to mind, Bayern dominated because Kroos was able to drop deep and join Gustavo ans Schweinsteiger to create a 3v2 against Khedira and Alonso because Ozil couldnt drop deep. There were matches where Mourinho used Ozil on the right and Modric in the hole because of this. Oscar works way harder than Mata when Chelsea do not have possession of the ball so its possible that Mourinho fancies Oscar because of this. Another reason could be that Oscar drops deep to aid transitions through the middle better than Mata. Or could be that Oscar runs at players better than the Spaniard. Without a doubt, Mata is the most creative player in the team, but truth be told Oscar has more dimensions to his game than the Spaniard, and could contribute in more ways. Mourinho was tasked with a job and its totally within his rights to try to mould the team as he sees fit. And so far, Oscar's performances are justifying him as the brazilian has been Chelsea's best player so far.
MATA ON THE RIGHT
Mourinho has suggested that Mata's best chance to get into Chelsea's XI is on the right wing. Its not a position he is new to, he is quite adept at playing there and has shown it does not affect his productivity. His brilliant first season for Chelsea was on the wing. Roberto Di Matteo used him there last season (with Oscar at no. 10). In a period that Chelsea played some wonderful attacking football, Mata was in the hub of things winning the BPL player of the month in november. A month that had him score a brace at White Hart Lane. So after proving himself capable on the right, why is he still not in the team? Well Mourinho clearly saw Chelsea under Di Matteo, what he is trying to do is similar to that. And while Chelsea were decent offensively, there were serious holes at the back. Teams started to take advantage of the fact that Chelsea's wingers did not contribute much in defending. The balance of the team was not good at all in that time. AVB faced a similar problem with Sturridge and Mata on the wings, RDM solved this by putting Kalou and Ramires on the wings and Mata in the hole for the rest of the season, in which time Mata's weaknesses did not matter because Chelsea defended with a very deep and compact 2 banks of 4. This culminated in Mata not ending the season as well as he started it as the spaniard is better in a proactive set up, Chelsea's tactics at the time meant he would see far less of the ball. After that season and the additions of Oscar and Hazard meant RDM was charged with making Chelsea play more attacking football and he got sacked. His team which is similar to what Mourinho is driving to lacked balance. Benitez to an extent solved this by sticking Oscar on the wings and Mata in the centre, and making the team more compact, rigid and counterattacking. Oscar's offensive prowess was overshadowed by this move but his hardworking side shone through but Juan Mata and Hazard ended the season as Chelsea's most dangerous players. One thing you need to see is that Mata centre and Oscar right is suits Mata but not Oscar at all, but when it was the other way round both players played very well, the difference between Mata centre and Mata right in terms of his productivity is small. Mata could benefit as his movement will be far more dangerous than when he is in a position that he has a designated marker. Mourinho knows all this and he does favour Mata on the right but does not want to do it yet at the expense of the team's balance and defence. That is why he is trying to get Mata to adapt to the defensive side of the game so he can use him more often, its a challenge. If Mata can improve where he has been asked to, he will make be in the team, simple as that.
Its going to end in 2 ways, either Mata takes this challenge presented to him, works, and prove he is still Chelsea's best player, or he does'nt and ends up leaving. Either way I don't think its quite fair yet to critisize a manager for doing his job at a time that its way to early to judge teams. Its not even that people disagree with what Mou is doing that is bad. Its that they are behaving like its a baseless action that is so unheard of and that there is no logical explanation to why he is doing what he is doing. People fail to talk about the fact that Luiz was also dropped for "technical reasons". Mourinho said only the best will play, he is giving no one assurances and that everyone will have to earn their place. He is being true to that. Mourinho has successfully changed Eto'o's position before and ended up with a treble. Another thing is, I think he is really keen on Mata. He has taken time to fully discuss what he thinks and his reasons for leaving out the player. Indications show that he would not do this for a player he does not want to keep. Joe Cole had to endure similar criticism from Mourinho in 2004, he took it as a Challenge and worked on the areas he was told to, and he ended up having the best period in his career (in which period he made the PFA team in 2006, starred in the world cup, and Chelsea's player of the year in 2008). I think this is what Mourinho wants for Mata. He has a place in Chelsea all he has to do it take it.