With twelve matches remaining in Chelsea’s Premier League campaign, the team currently sits 3rd in the table, out of the running for the title, but in great position for next year’s UEFA Champions League qualification. On top of that, The Blues have earned a spot in the fourth round of the FA Cup and are also one of the favorites heading into the Europa League tournament. While they made a disappointing exit in the group stages of the Champions League back in early December, their overall play this season has been stellar especially considering the potentially devastating influences the team has dealt with since they lifted the Champions League Trophy last May.
Let’s take a look at some of the key happenings of the past year:
-The departures of club legend Didier Drogba as well as influential players Daniel Sturridge, José Bosignwa, Salomon Kalou, Raul Meireles, Michael Essien, not to mention the rise and fall of Florent Malouda.
-The new signings of Eden Hazard, Oscar, Demba Ba, and Victor Moses.
-The controversial firing of beloved manager Roberto Di Matteo, who lead the club to its first Champions League title ever last year, and the hiring of former Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez.
-The John Terry racism saga and the horrific knee injury sustained by the team’s best defender and team captain.
-Various injuries sustained by key players that has caused instability in the lineup: Petr Cech, David Luiz, Jon Obi Mikel, and Frank Lampard.
-The outspoken words of owner Roman Abramovich about players over 30 being over the hill, which has caused speculation and rumors about the possible departures of club legends Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole, and John Terry.
With all of the things that the club and players have had to deal with since their triumph of last season, the 2012-2013 campaign could have had a much different road than it has.
The team has shown surprising fortitude and success in the face of adversity and even with leaders like John Terry and Roberto Di Matteo absent, not to mention the production of players like Didier Drogba, Daniel Sturridge, Salomon Kalou, and Florent Malouda, the questions must be asked:
“How in the world has Chelsea played so well this season? How have they gelled under such difficult circumstances? Where is there production and success coming from?”
The answer comes in the form of a 5’7” Spanish midfielder named Juan Mata.
Mata has emerged as a genuine superstar in the English Premier League and become one of the most popular players at the club. Once just another name in a star-studded lineup, Mata has surfaced as the face of Chelsea this season with his leadership, production, and consistency.
With 16 goals and 18 assists in 35 matches this season, Mata leads the team in both categories and is among the leaders in the league, and has become the primary free kick specialist and corner kick taker. He is the midfield maestro that helps get the ball from defense to attack, while also maintaining his role as team facilitator and playmaker. He has become a fan favorite and has stayed healthy while playing at a high level consistently throughout the season.
Mata was of course a great player with great stats before this season, but he has clearly elevated his game to another level. With such an elevation, Mata could be in the running for Best XI awarded to the top 11 players of each season in the EPL. His performance also warrants a closer look by the Spanish national team, which Mata has been a part of, but never a consistent selection for.
Players like Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas, David Silva, Xabi Alonso, and Sergio Busquets have had a hold on the Spanish midfield for years, but after the season Mata has had for Chelsea, he should get a better chance this summer. The Chelsea maestro has clearly outplayed Manchester City midfielder David Silva this season and while the Barcelona and Real Madrid players have been consistent, Spain often plays with six midfielders instead of four midfielders and two strikers, which should allow a place for Mata. The upcoming Confederations Cup could give Juan Mata the chance he needs to finally shine on the world stage if manager Vicente del Bosque does the right thing and makes Mata a more consistent part of the lineup.
Whether Mata gets his chance or not internationally, the fact is that he has become a superstar at the club level. Without him, Chelsea would not be in 3rd place in the table and his teammates and fans know it. His emergence as the team star has pushed The Blues through the adversity of losing players, adding players, sustaining injuries, and integrating a new manager and system of play. His dedication to the club and to his teammates can’t be understated. He has become the face of the team and deserves a majority of the credit for Chelsea’s success this season.
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