Pitchside Europe

Why Chelsea would regret selling Juan Mata to Manchester United

Social media and paper rumours have been buzzing today with news of an imminent move by Manchester United for Chelsea’s Spanish attacker Juan Mata, with all three parties seemingly close to an agreement.

Of course, deals might break down at any moment for a number of reasons, but before this one goes through, Chelsea might do well to reconsider whether they genuinely want to take the risk of strengthening a Premier League rival with such a talented player.

Mata has been on the fringes of the Chelsea side this season, featuring only 13 times in total in league action, and is clearly not part of Jose Mourinho’s first-team plans going forward.

The reasons for this appear to be pretty well documented; Mata doesn’t offer enough defensively to make up for his attacking prowess, the balance of both being something Mourinho teams have always strived for.

In fairness to Mourinho, those attitudes are based on solid fact: Mata doesn’t average even one defensive action per game this season, while his three main defensive statistics tally up at three interceptions, two clearances, four headed duels contested and 14 tackles won.

It’s not spectacular and the likes of Oscar and Willian are offering far more. Willian in particular—who operates from the right, where Mata might be expected to play—is a good comparison, having likewise featured 13 times in the league this term.

The Brazilian has totalled nine interceptions, five clearances, 15 headed duels contested and 21 tackles won, all far superior statistics against Mata. Mourinho likes this, even if Mata’s chance creation this season far outstrips his team-mate so far.

But Juan Mata is a one-off player. He is in the top handful of players in world football, let alone the Premier League, for being able to wind his way through an opposition defence with a well-timed pass, a one-touch return ball with the perfect weight on it or a driving run through the centre to finish beyond the goalkeeper. He is, in short, a match-winner.

Can Chelsea afford to offload such a star so easily? Perhaps so. Money isn’t really an issue for them and the team collective always wins out over the superb individual—that’s another Mourinho tenet, and one he has won titles in four countries with. There’s not much arguing with it.

So they offload him - fine.

But elsewhere. Out of the country. Nowhere where, a week or a month or half a season down the line, he’s going to be racking up the goals and assists at such a rate that he takes his new team up a level or two—that’s literally how good Mata is on the ball, in possession, with talented runners around him.

At Manchester United he could be lining up with Adnan Januzaj, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie for the next four months at least; United may be further down the table this season than anybody expected, but that won’t last. The club won’t let it last.

Adding Mata to their team now is tantamount to Chelsea saying, “ok, you’re not threat this year—but here’s an almost guaranteed addition of 100 chances on goal for next year’s challenge.”

Because that’s what Mata offers, 95 chances created last season for Chelsea, missing three games all season. 12 goals. 12 assists. And Manchester United, for all their faults, have far better penalty box strikers at the club than Chelsea do—yes, even despite that Samuel Eto’o hat-trick.

Mata scored an 85% pass success rate in 2012-13, with 96 successful long balls in there too—a key weapon in the creative outlet to change defence to attack in an accurate instant.

When Mata moves on, and it seems inevitable he will now, he’ll have something to prove. To himself perhaps, to his new club, to his national team boss and most certainly to the watching contingent of Chelsea-related folk: fans, TV crews, pundits and Jose Mourinho.

The Stamford Bridge club might indeed do well to reconsider whether they want a fired-up Juan Mata leading the newest charge of a Premier League rival against them next season.