Monday 25 September 2017

My self-belief is greater than ever, declares bullish Mata

Juan Mata
Juan Mata

Jeremy Wilson

It was the last question of the interview, but also the one that drew the most natural and emphatic reaction. So, Juan, just how much do you want to play against Tottenham?

Juan Mata believes that Spurs have been weakened by the sale of Gareth Bale and, having scored twice in the corresponding fixture last season, his face instantly lit up. "I can't wait to play, I can't wait," he said. "I'm looking forward to playing."

The problem, of course, is that he probably will not be. Not if recent selections are anything to go.

Chelsea have had five league matches this season and, in those 450 minutes, Mata has played only 122. After two seasons in which he has been Chelsea's stand-out performer – and even accepting that he is still gaining match fitness after a niggling thigh injury – Mata's treatment has been one of the more baffling storylines of the season.

SYMPATHY

Even Chelsea supporters – usually united in their appreciation of Jose Mourinho – have sympathy. That much was evident when Mata received a rousing ovation simply for warming up during the Champions League defeat against Basle.

"I got emotional and all the stands were cheering me," he said. "It is just the beginning right now, we have eight months to go and I believe in myself more than ever. I believe in what the season will bring to me. I am very confident of going to the World Cup. I know I am going to be there."

Mata (pictured right) added that there had been impromptu support from fans and team-mates.

"It is nice to feel the people are behind you," he said. "I feel really loved, by my team-mates, by the club, by the supporters. In the dressing room we are friends, all of them they are saying to me: 'Be patient, be calm, we know how good you are.' That is very important to me."

The only conversation that really counts, of course, is with Mourinho. And there have been plenty of those.

In public, Mourinho has openly said that he sees Oscar as his first- choice No 10 behind the main central striker. He has also made it clear that he expects more from his most skilled players such as Mata, both in terms of creating and scoring goals, but also helping the team defensively.

"He just told me to play in between the lines and try to control the midfielders and that's what I try to do," said Mata. "I can play as a No 10 on the wing, as I did in first two seasons here. I will play wherever he demands. I want to do the same job as I did in the last two seasons."

Mata stressed that he was happy to be challenged and even criticised. He is also adamant that his dad's recent appearance in the directors' box at Arsenal was simply because he loves watching football matches. "Nothing else," said Mata. "My dad always said to me: 'If you are left-footed, improve with your right'. I have to improve defensively, too.

"To be the perfect player is very, very difficult. If you ask me if last season was the perfect season, it was the best in my career, but I could still have done better.

"I think Jose can help me. I think he's a manager who analyses everything, not just in our team, but in the opposition. You can see it in the statistics, you can see it in how he re-watches games every time. He's a manager who likes intensity, who likes pressure, who likes to be a compact team and I think he had success where he was. We have too many young players and we have players who have been signed and are new and need to adapt to what the manager wants, but we also have experienced players."

But, having comfortably been Chelsea's most creative player in recent years, surely it must be difficult to hear Mourinho publicly say that Oscar was his preferred No 10?

"It's an opinion," said Mata. "I can just do what I have in my hands, what I have in my feet, what I have in my body. That's what I have to do, run as much as I can, play as much as I can, assist and score as much as I can and that's it. I can be calm with myself.

"We had a conversation in the beginning of the season, we spoke about what he thought and what I thought. I think I am doing what the manager wants me to do. To be honest, for me it's easy to be focusing on what I have to do. I will try to play at my best – and that's my only target." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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