On August of 2011, Chelsea announced the signing of Juan Mata from Valencia for a fee of £23.5 million on a 5 year contract. This was to prove quite the capture for Chelsea as Juan was to go on and become Chelsea’s Player of the Year for two years running.
During his first season with Chelsea, Mata helped his team win the cup-double, creating a superb 66 chances overall throughout the season. In the Premier League, Mata contributed 6 goals and 14 assists – with only Manchester City’s David Silva providing more assists. Mata’s form for Chelsea was so good that he was offered and accepted a contract extension half way through his second season, tying him to the club until 2018. He finished that season in excellent form, scoring an impressive 16 goals in 41 appearances and assisting another 20 goals. He was also nominated for the PFA Players’ Player of the Year award to go along with his Chelsea Player of the Year award.
Things, however, were to take a turn for the worse for Mata as Jose Mourinho was brought in on the 2013-2014 season, a move which contributed greatly to his decision to leave Chelsea. Mata quickly found himself frozen out, with Jose stating that Mata will need to adapt to his style of play.
“It is another thing to adapt to the way we want to play. In this moment, Oscar is my No. 10 and, if anyone tells me Oscar has not been Chelsea’s best player this season, I’d have to disagree. I have to prove to the fans that I am good. Now [Mata] must do the same.” he said.
Mata was forced to leave after struggling to break into the first team, starting just 11 of 22 Premier League games. Manchester United was his destination.
After arriving at Carrington’s AON training complex in a private helicopter to sign his United contract, Juan Mata made an immediate impact on the pitch, notching an impressive 6 goals in the remaining 14 Premier League fixtures for the season. He built on his performances during the following Louis Van Gaal years which saw him grab another 16 goals, in spite of the less than stellar football United were playing under their new management. Despite winning the F.A. Cup, United’s mediocre performances ultimately cost Van Gaal his job, and thus a new era was to be ushered in as United hired Jose Mourinho, perhaps to the indifference of Mata.
Mourinho’s first competitive game for United wasn’t to pass by without incident though. Mata was selected to start on the bench in the Community Shield match against the champions Leicester City, and came on in the second half replacing Jesse Lingard. But his second half stint lasted only 30 minutes as Jose opted to replace Mata himself with Henrikh Mkhitaryan, later justifying his decision by stating:
“I needed to take off the smallest player because we were expecting a lot of long balls.”
Mata did not appear pleased with the decision.
Although there appeared to be a lot of tension between the player and manager, Mata started in United’s Premier League opener and scored their first Premier League goal of the season with a tap-in after Simon Francis’ error. A few weeks later, Mata was to get his second goal of the season against Leicester, a match Wayne Rooney was dropped from because of a poor start to the season. This match holds significance because Juan took Rooney’s place, and in the process produced an excellent display with a goal and an assist, effectively showing Rooney how a true No. 10 should play.
In the press conference leading up to United’s Europa League clash against Zorya Luhansk, Jose Mourinho spoke about Juan Mata’s importance to the squad, and underlined that Juan Mata is better suited to the type of football he wants his United team playing, as opposed to the football he set out his Chelsea team to play in the past.
“I think Juan at my project at Chelsea was a good player, and in my project at Man United he is a very good player.” He went on to say that he believes that Juan “found a very good natural habitat to his football”.
It remains to be seen if Jose follows through and makes Mata an integral part of his team, but the initial signs seem positive.