A year ago, had you asked me whether selling Juan Mata was a good idea, my reaction would probably have involved substantial amounts of violence and profanity. The idea was inconceivable; he was liked -- loved, even -- by players and fans, he was absolutely indispensable to Chelsea's style of play, and he was scoring and assisting goals for fun. Even at a figure like £40 million, the idea of Mata leaving Stamford Bridge would have been inconceivable.
But what happens when the indispensable player without whom all is lost stops playing and the team carries on quite happily without him? When he retains his stratospheric value to everyone else after half a season of frankly inferior play in the rotation? Chelsea supporters still love Juan Mata, but the simple fact is that he hasn't been playing well, and has failed to force his way into the team.
He's not behind Eden Hazard, Oscar and Willian because he's not liked -- he's second-choice on merit. And the Blues are now title contenders.
Two years ago, when Mata was clearly our best player, he was still unsuited to our biggest games. He should not have been on the pitch against Barcelona and had a nightmare (save for one quite special corner kick) at the Allianz Arena, missing a penalty in the shootout and failing to either impose himself on the game or contribute defensively. From open play Mata's always been the one to apply the killing blow, but he needs a solid platform from which to operate; without it he does nothing.
Away goals against Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United last year took some of the sting out of that criticism, but the fact remains that if Chelsea came up against one of Europe's top teams and have to put in a real defensive shift, nobody in their right mind would be hoping for Mata to start.
So far this season Mata's seen 1,100 minutes of playing time, a significant figure for a part-time player. But he hasn't been anything like his usual self. It's not as though Jose Mourinho is playing a system in which the attacking midfielders are marginalised -- Oscar and Hazard are doing just fine statistically, thank you -- Mata just isn't doing enough whenever he gets on the field to warrant a place in the starting lineup, especially when one considers that his teammates provide far more defensively as well.
At this point, then, if someone blows us away with an offer for Mata it shouldn't be the end of the world. I wouldn't sell him this transfer window since we need the depth in attacking midfield, and I definitely wouldn't sell him to Manchester United if we could get away with it, but if Chelsea are exploring a sale and send him away during summer, so be it.
Mata's a fantastic player and a lovely bloke, but he's no longer indispensable, and there's no need to treat him like he is.
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