Date: 24th August 2011 at 4:50pm
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Chelsea are on the verge of completing a deal for Valencia star Juan Manuel Mata and as per usual an array of opinions from supposed experts about the player has surfaced amongst the English footballing community as to what type of player he is, exactly how good he is, and how he could impact the Premier League.

Usually what tends to happen is a glut of people would look to another player from similar circumstances or someone who looks similar and then decide the player is very similar to that more known figure, for instance, Lucas Piazon is supposedly like Kaka and Lukaku is supposedly like Drogba, with Mata we are apparently signing David Silva. I prefer to solicit views and opinions directly from the source and so I asked a Valencia fan for his assessment on Mata:

“He outshone Silva in the Koeman disaster season (09/10), he helped guided and compensated for the lack of Villa and Silva last season.

“Many people are unsure of the Mata’s true position. English people consider him a winger, whilst other people are labelling him some sort of a playmaker. I wouldn’t say he’s either his natural position was a behind the striker type when he signed for Valencia, not in the hole though, definitely a forward not a midfielder, off the shoulder of the striker, a second striker.

“As a young kid with David Villa, Morientes etc in his position he had to take his chance out wide, despite making his debut and scoring in his natural position, Silva was moved from the left into the hole as he is more creative and the left sided position was opened for Mata as he had more pace.

“Mata does get wide and offer width sometimes but he’s clearly not a winger he cuts in often and has the versatility to make up any of the 4 attacking positions in a 4-2-3-1 formation.

“Despite this many see his future as an out and out striker playing as a number 9. There have been reports that for Spain in training he usually plays as a striker, where he is said to find space and finish excellently, something he’s never really had the opportunity to do that at club level.

“At Chelsea I think he’ll offer a good option and will suite well due to his pace. I do not think he’s anything like Silva, making that comparison void, I could see him filling a similar kind of position to good effect, operating as one of the two wider players in a trident with a bit of a free role, but the David Silva comparison will only mislead.”

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Mata’s current position is a victim of circumstances, as a playmaker he really falls short, a reason as to why despite deputising behind the striker initially for Valencia, David Silva a more natural playmaker was shifted inside.

A player at Chelsea I will compare to Mata in terms of circumstances is Anelka. Nicolas Anelka is not a winger, he is a striker, but, increasingly with the popularity of the 4-3-3 formation which only provides a single position for a striker, we see David Villa at Barcelona playing wide, we see Nicolas Anelka playing wide. Juan Mata is another victim.

Mata spoke about his positioning:

“I am not an old-style winger stuck right out on the wing and limited to running at people and getting crosses in. I like to drop inside and get between the lines. I tend not to try to take people one on one; I believe in movement, interchange and being vertical [incisive].”

A potent striker that is good enough to be very effective as a wide attacker, who is also a playmaker is the holy grail of attacking player in today’s game. Players like Neymar, like Messi they are attacking playmakers who orchestrate, who also dribble, who also provide width and crucially they score plenty.

Chelsea have Daniel Sturridge who is very close to that mould, Chelsea also have Anelka.

Now, with the Anelka combination, he isn’t really any good at orchestrating attacks, but, tries to, he’s not really effective a wide player but, operates in that role as a makeshift, and admittedly he no longer has the hunger he once had to put the ball in the back of the net.

Where does Mata lie?

In terms of his capabilities as a wide player, well, he has confessed he tries not to take on people one on one, which is a fundamental trait for a wide player, though he does have decent pace.

In terms of his ability as an attacking playmaker, he’s a thoughtful player, who tries to play a clever game in between the lines in the third quarter, which I suppose does makes him some sort of a trequartista.

Finally, in terms of goal scoring, well, it’s interesting because I have noticed a trend with La Liga’s moderate young goal-scorers, over the years I have seen Samuel Eto’o in a similar situation to Juan Manuel Mata, leaving Real Madrid to step down a level in Spain, Eto’o going to Real Mallorca, Mata going to Valencia. Eto’o ended up going to Barcelona and his goal stats instantly doped moving up a level. David Villa a moderate goal scorer for Real Zaragoza then became a real goal scorer moving up a level. Fernando Torres a moderate goal scorer instantly became a high scoring hit on moving to Liverpool. I predict that Aguero will follow suit and really start banging in the goals like never before, and I would hope the same for Mata, who has always had his share of goals since his move to Valencia.

I personally prefer to have 3 goal scorers as attackers. Mata was known as the new Raul when he was coming through the Real Madrid Castilla, and he has good finishing capabilities, if there is anything I hope to see, it’s the possibility of having another goal scorer from a wide position.

Almost like Pedro has been for Barcelona, when it comes to creativity in the midfield, fingers crossed for Modric because a potential future “triple M” trio of McEachran, Modric & Mikel doesn’t seem fair, but, what do we care? It doesn’t Mata.