Leading into this season there was one key criticism of Chelsea that was allegedly going to pave the way for a two horse race between the two Manchester clubs. That Chelsea are an aging side rendering them incapable of competing for the title. What has been evident in previous weeks and was accentuated by the win over Everton yesterday is that Chelsea have a lot to offer from their younger players.
Sturridge has continued to show how much the loan spell at Bolton benefitted him by scoring again to become Chelsea’s top scoring striker this season ahead of Drogba, Anelka and Torres. However, another young player could quite possibly be the difference for Chelsea this season. Juan Mata is slowly consolidating his position as Chelsea’s key playmaker – his performance yesterday further illustrated how important the 23-year-old is to our attacking force. With regard to the “old team” criticism it is extremely positive to see the spark for the side’s creativity coming from a younger player. He was crucial to the build up of both the first and third goals. He picked out Ashley Cole over the top with ease before the left back crossed the ball for Daniel Sturridge’s headed goal. Then in the second half he presented a perfect cross for Ramires to put the game out of sight. In addition to this there just seems to be a bit of a buzz when he’s on the ball. When Chelsea get into the final third of the pitch if feels that the most likely way we are going to penetrate is through Mata. He is also one of the few players who shaping up to be a constant in a team that Andre Villas-Boas stresses that he wants to rotate.
With his fellow countryman Fernando Torres continuing to grab the headlines with his problematic start to the season – the debate about Chelsea’s recent signings is stuck in a limbo of whether or not we should have signed Torres. With Mata there is no debate, he seems to have slotted into the set-up extremely comfortably and could be the man we look at to make things happen for us throughout the season.
Mata has been the reliable regular to ensure the Blues have kept the goals flowing - with any luck he will be a key player for Chelsea for years to come.
The best thing about Mata is the way in which he attacks can vary. When he was brought in I thought he would be an exclusive left-sided winger. Perhaps doing a similar job to Malouda – but Mata plays in a very different way. He comes deep for the ball and tries to make things happen, rather than exclusively cling to the left. He’s keen to get the ball at any opportunity in attack and loves to come into a central position to pick out the best pass to slip through to set up a goal. He even pops up on the right in a bid to find a way through defences. And let’s not forget he’s already scored in both the Premier League and Champions League. He’s shaping up to be one of the most important components of the Chelsea attack. As AVB has had to tinker with his front man due to suspensions and concussions Mata has been the reliable regular to ensure the Blues have kept the goals flowing. With any luck he will be a key player for Chelsea for years to come.
But back to this early season criticism of Chelsea as an old team - Frank Lampard silenced his critics at Bolton with that hatrick at the age of 33. He also delivered the cross set up another veteran, John Terry, for the other goal that was scored against Everton. So, if we can get the best out of both old and young then even better.
As much as the win was comfortable it also alerted to a fact that will have to be addressed as we progress through the season – Chelsea are struggling to keep a clean sheet. Not since the first day of the season with a 0-0 draw against Stoke have the Blues maintained a clean sheet in the league. If we are truly going to challenge to win this title rather than merely linger behind the Mancunian teams then not conceding is going to be a must. If this is rectified Chelsea will be a real force. We’re moving the ball well with some lovely one touch football at times and Juan Mata is absolutely vital to this. Add a few more clean sheets to our game and I would be bold enough to throw out the word “contenders”.
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