BT Sport are the new kids on the football broadcast block, and judging from their shambles of an advertising campaign, they’ll need some getting used to this. In it, Jake Humphreys walks around, trying to rouse interest in us over fixtures like Newcastle vs Liverpool, before David James refers to Spurs v Chelsea as “the master versus the apprentice” in a manner that can most politely be described as “dumb***”.
Another David, Luiz, is much closer to the mark when he said after our Carling Cup win at Swindon, “it is Tottenham vs Chelsea, not Mourinho vs Villas-Boas. It will be a fantastic derby.” Given that there has been no lack of incidents when these two London clubs have met in the past, he’s probably right.
Depressingly, since re-joining Chelsea, Mourinho hasn’t actually overseen Chelsea score an away goal in the league. His luck may be in this Saturday; in the last three meetings between Tottenham and Chelsea, the games have seen 4, 6 and 6 goals. Much of Chelsea’s attacking potency will depend on Oscar, who’s been our finest player this season, and someone who Mourinho is obviously fond of.
I was at the dispiriting home loss to Basel, and also the west London derby against Fulham, both of which Oscar scored in. From his performances in those two games alone, one can see why Mourinho is so keen on him: he scores, he tracks back, makes tackles, has pace and power. He is as close as you’ll find to an all-round player, and has thoroughly justified his starts this season.
What is far more puzzling, however, is Mourinho’s aversion to Mata. Juan Mata was Chelsea’s Player of the Season last year, and the year before that. He is, pardon the triteness of the phrase, a great lad and even Manchester Utd and Liverpool fans who despise Chelsea (haters gonna hate.gif) have expressed admiration for the little Spaniard. Yet, in various interviews when questioned on Mata, Mourinho has spoken about him with such asperity (witness the way he barked at after the Fulham game) that you’d think someone was asking him why he didn’t start Titus Bramble.
At the start of the season, Mourinho could at least hide behind the excuse that he wasn’t starting Mata because he wasn’t yet match fit. But his increasing tendency to field players who are undoubtedly inferior to Mata (Schürrle? Schürrle not, more like), as well as signing Willian when we already have an abundance of attacking midfielders is a clear message to Mata that he doesn’t trust him. The Chelsea fan sat next to me for the Fulham game (though not before asking me if I had any CFC tattoos) said his favourite player was, “the fella that the gaffer doesn’t like”. Quite.
Were he boss anyone other than Mourinho, then Chelsea fans would be calling for his head in response to this bizarre freeze-out. It is only because of his extensive, shiny, track record for us that we are more patient. But Mourinho, who has a ruthless Machiavellian streak in him so strong it would make Breaking Bad’s Walter look like a little puppy, hasn’t always been right. Admittedly, he gets it right more often than not (his harshness with Joe Cole leading to the former England winger blossoming into a stronger player, is the footballing equivalent to Walter off Breaking Bad’s “this is not Crystal Meth” badassery), but he is not infallible.
He points to how pusillanimous Mata has been in tackles. But Chelsea have Mikel for that. Were Mourinho willing to place Luiz in defensive midfield (one of the few things Benitez got right), we would have a fine tackler in him too. It is not as if Eden Hazard is a roaring success in the crunching tackles department, yet the Belgian has continued to see starts, whereas Mata sees his backside on the bench. The strangeness of this hit its peak in the away loss to Everton, where Mata was our best player in that game, yet Mourinho hauled him off, despite keeping Hazard, who’d been woeful, on.
Mata saw a full game on Tuesday against Swindon, and he seemed to absorb remarks about his work-rate, trying hard to dispel those words. In doing the tracking back thing that Mourinho keeps demanding of him, though, he stifled his own creative flair. Personally, I would rather Mata didn’t sweat it over these duties. That was never what he was bought for, and now for Mourinho to point to his lack of defensive-mindedness, when it’s never been his forte but similarly never been a problem in the past, sounds highly suspicious. Little wonder that Mata was linked with a move to PSG on deadline day, as well as a potential January move to Atlético Madrid. A player that good deserves a legitimate reason to why he is not playing, and I don’t believe anything Mourinho has offered so far is that.
In the end, it all got a bit too much for Juan Mata. The beardy playmaker is sweet as pie, and usually above the type of passive-aggressive penmanship that has gotten the likes of Ashley Cole and Rio Ferdinand into so much trouble, choosing instead to Instragram tourist views of London and tweet friendly comments, but even he couldn’t resist a dig when he blogged, “a million thanks for your messages; they are really moving, everything would be more difficult without you guys”. Who can blame him? Any other top side would give an arm to have him, and there Mourinho is, treating him as if he’s surplus to requirements.
Usually the build-up to Spurs/Chelsea games focuses on beef between the two teams, their fans, and whatnot. But we find ourselves in an unusual scenario where one of the biggest factions is within a club. Mourinho will say it is not personal, but it’s really hard to see why anyone would bench Mata otherwise. There’s something we don’t know about, and whilst I’m curious as to what it is, for now, I’d put my nosiness on hold just to see Mourinho play Mata, and reap the awards of doing so tomorrow