Juan Mata arrived at Stamford Bridge this summer with the quest of helping fellow Spaniard Fernando Torres return to scoring form. It's early days but he's own goalscoring has made more of an impact, 2 goals in his opening 3 appearances. The former Valencia playmaker will face he's toughest test to date since arriving in the English Premiership, an away trip to Old Trafford.
How they lined up ?
Chelsea made just one change to the side that beat Sunderland in their previous Premier League game. With two assists in the Champions League in midweek Fernando Torres replaced Nicolas Anelka.
Manchester United replaced Rio Ferdinand with Jonny Evans and the injured Tom Cleverley with Darren Fletcher from the team that beat Bolton.
Positioned on the Left wing, Juan Mata would come up initially against young defender Chris Smalling.
In the early exchanges Mata's touches came facing away to goal with a couple of backwards passes. He began to roam between the lines and popped up in a number of advanced areas. On the other wing Sturridge remained wide occasionally swapping to the other side when Mata moved. Mata's in field wondering made it difficult for United to pick him up and also allowed space for Ashley Cole to venture forward. However it also allowed United to spring counter attacks on their right hand side with just Cole to cope with Nani at times, when Smalling looked to push forward Mata could be seen on occasions glancing across to keep an eye on the defenders movement. He couldn't be faulted for Smalling's goal though as he wasn't in the defensive line from the free kick in which they scored. His composure on the ball stood out and helped link up Chelsea's attacks as he carried the ball from midfield. The pick of his play was a slide rule pass between two players for Torres who squared for the arriving Chelsea player to hit De Gea when it looked easier to score. United's 2nd goal came from Nani, the Portuguese wingers pace allowed him to cut inside of Mata and evade his attempted challenge, in hindsight he might have been better not diving in but the outcome might have still been the same. A fantastic long-range strike nestled in the top corner. Rooney scored after a defensive mix up and Chelsea found themselves 3 down at half time. Juan Mata had the most successful attacking third passes of everyone on the pitch, United had just 3 shots on target and 3 goals to show for it.
At half time Villas-Boas made changes to the formation, moving to more of a 4-2-1-3. This allowed Mata to play in a free-role through the centre giving him license to go where he felt necessary without fear that he was leaving breaking players on their own. Anelka entered the pitch for Frank Lampard and occupied the left-wing role. Mata made a number of passes out to the left hand side to Anelka as they hoped to use the Frenchman's pace to get in behind. A well taken Torres goal early in the second half gave Chelsea a little hope. Chelsea were much improved in this half and Mata was key to their progression, he had a shot at the near post turned around by De Gea for a corner. The United midfield allowed Mata to position himself behind them and in front of the defence, leading 3-1 they were not too concerned by the former Valencia playmaker. With 10 minutes remaining of the game Mata could be seen urging he's team mates forward to press the ball higher up the field, when he became frustrated he dropped into deeper areas to carry the ball forward. It wasn't to be Chelsea's day as former Atlético Madrid striker Torres missed an open goal having rounded another former Atléti player in David De Gea.
Only Darren Fletcher completed more passes than Mata throughout the entire 90 minutes and no one completed more attacking third passes. In fact the Spaniard was the only Chelsea player in the top 9 on the pitch for successful passes with an 89% success rate. His corners were of particular danger to the opposition as he created 4 goalscoring opportunities from them alone.
Juan Mata seems to symbolise the "new Chelsea" under André Villas-Boas. He understands what's required of him having played in similar styles and roles whilst at Valencia. Unfortunately for the London side there are a number of players that are struggling to cope with the changes, the defence and Frank Lampard in particular. They have been able to get results to date without playing that well but the test of the side will be in the bigger battles. Older players are less willing to change their styles as seen when Rafa Benítez arrived at Internazionale. Whether Villas-Boas can take Chelsea back to recent former glories will depend on the patience of owner Roman Abramovich and if the Russian is indeed patient then Juan Mata will very much be involved in the success.