Jose Mourinho in veiled criticism of Juan Mata.
Jose Mourinho has warned Juan Mata he will continue to be on the periphery of the Chelsea first team unless he can ‘adapt’ his game to suit the Blues’ new style.
Mata, 25, has played just 145 minutes of football in six matches since Mourinho returned to Stamford Bridge and the playmaker was linked with an exit last month.
The Spain international, Chelsea’s player of the year in the past two campaigns, has bagged 25 league assists in two seasons and was influential in the club’s Champions League and Europa League victories.
But, in a veiled criticism of the former Valencia star, Mourinho says Mata must adapt his game and insists Brazilian Oscar is currently his preferred number ten.
“The way I’m reading the situation and the reasons why, in this moment, he’s not playing so much are things I can speak about with him, but not publicly,” Mourinho told The Guardian when asked about Mata.
“But he played against Everton from the start and you can analyse his performance. And he came on against Basel when the team were winning 1-0 – not like Demba Ba or Mikel John Obi, who came on to rescue the game –with specific tasks to do.
“It’s part of a process with him, too. It is one thing to play with Ramires and Oscar closing down opponents on each side, and Mata as a No. 10 behind a striker with his clever assists, clever passes and fantastic actions because he has great talent.”
Mourinho, who has a host of playmakers at his disposal including Willian, Kevin de Bruyne and Eden Hazard, challenged Mata to ‘prove’ himself to Chelsea fans this term.
“But it is another thing to adapt to the way we want to play. In this moment, Oscar is my No. 10 and, if anyone tells me Oscar has not been Chelsea’s best player this season, I’d have to disagree. I have to prove to the fans that I am good. Now [Mata] must do the same.”
Under Rafa Benitez, Chelsea used Mata, Oscar and Hazard in an attacking trident behind a lone front man and Mourinho says he may restore the formation in the future – but only when Mata and the Belgian learn to track back.
“But only when [Mata] adapts to what we want,” Mourinho said, when asked if he would use the triumvirate.
“I’m not ready to ask Oscar to track opposing full-backs. Brazil has more talented players in the No. 10 position than any other country in the world, and he plays there for the national team, so I want to build with Oscar as my No. 10. I want the other two players, from the side, to adapt to that reality and learn how to do things they were not ready to do before.
“The players are open to some of the changes, and not so open to others because this is more difficult. If I’m a defender I want to play low block, with no space behind me.
“If I’m an attacking player I’d prefer to play without a position, without certain responsibilities, and with others behind me to cover so I don’t need to worry about [tracking back]. It’s about changing mentality. It takes a bit of time. But it won’t take five, six, seven years. I promise.”