When Andre Villas-Boas took charge of Chelsea back in June, the former Porto boss remained somewhat adamant that the squad of players he had inherited at Stamford Bridge were more than capable of winning trophies this season. While interest in Luka Modric was reported to have been ever present, the Chelsea boss bided his time in entering the transfer market with any real ferocity. Last season Chelsea lacked a ‘playmaker’ in the centre of their midfield, and required somebody who could provide Fernando Torres with kind of service that he was used to at Liverpool. Questions started to be raised over the capabilities of an ‘ageing’ Frank Lampard, but in a season hampered by injury, the 32-year-old still managed to bag himself 10 league goals and sent out a reminder to everyone of just how important to Chelsea he can be.
With the closing of the transfer window looming, Andre Villas-Boas had turned his attention to bringing in fresh talent by the middle of August. With a deal for 19-year-old Oriol Romeu already complete, the Chelsea boss brought in the ‘new Drogba’ in Romelu Lukaku, and on the 24th of August Juan Mata signed a five-year deal with the West Londoners. A fee of around £23m was agreed between Valencia and Chelsea, but unlike Lukaku and Romeu, who are considered ‘players for the future’, Mata will be expecting regular first team action with Chelsea, meaning one of the current first eleven dropping to the bench.
Where Mata plays at Chelsea will heavily depend on the formation that Villas-Boas opts to go with this season. Chelsea have deployed a 4-3-3 formation in recent years, but the likes of Fernando Torres have struggled to adapt to such a set up and the Chelsea boss is believed to still be unsure with the ‘best’ formation for his side. At Valencia, Mata was deployed either on the left flank or as an attacking midfielder. While Frank Lampard is fully fit, he is unlikely to be dropped to the bench, while Ramires has only really started to show is ability over the last few months. Florent Malouda yesterday vowed to remain at Chelsea, and even hoped to extend his contract until 2012, which would suggest the Frenchman sees no reason as to why his position should be in jeopardy at Stamford Bridge.
Last week at home to Norwich, Villas-Boas opted for a 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield of Mikel, Ramires, Malouda, and Lampard. Mata replaced Malouda in the 67th minute and opened his scoring account in stoppage time to probably ensure a starting place next week. A Drogba-Torres partnership up front is still yet to flourish for Chelsea, though signs of improvement were certainly on show against Norwich. Whether this formation would suit Mata as well remains to be seen, but an impressive debut in this kind of set up may give the Chelsea boss reason to stick with it for the time being.
It has been suggested that in order for Fernando Torres to rediscover his best form, then a formation of 4-5-1, or 4-4-1-1 would need to be deployed by the Chelsea boss. This would also arguably suit Mata best, taking up a role just behind his Spanish compatriot and providing the kind of service that he needs in order to justify the £50m price-tag hanging over his head. This formation would perhaps see Mikel and Lampard taking up roles in the centre of midfield, with Malouda and Ramires on opposite flanks. Should Torres start, this would of course see the likes of Drogba, Anelka, Lukaku, and Sturridge all out of the side, and is therefore unlikely to be used by the Chelsea boss. However, in order for both Mata and Torres to perform at their best, I feel this formation would be required at Stamford Bridge.
An enviable dilemma for Villas-Boas then perhaps? The Chelsea boss is overloaded with attacking options that even he is struggling to fit in to his ‘best’ starting eleven. Rumours were circulating on deadline day regarding the possible departure of Florent Malouda, and at 31, the Frenchman does look likely to be the man to make room for Juan Mata. Of course much relies on the formation and style of play that Villas-Boas wishes to bring to Stamford Bridge, but the Spanish international will be desperate to play regularly at Chelsea, and such an assurance is likely to have been provided by the Chelsea boss before his move to London was finalised.
After an impressive debut last weekend, Chelsea fans will be hoping that Mata can provide not only goals himself, but the service and assistance for Fernando Torres that has appeared to be lacking since his arrival in January. The new arrivals at Stamford Bridge will have brought down the average age at the club, and the ‘old boys’ at Chelsea look set to face stiff competition from the likes of Mata, Lukaku, and Romeu. While Villas-Boas tries to figure out a way to accommodate his best eleven players, Chelsea fans, and a certain Russian billionaire, will be desperate to see such heavy investment over the summer prove to be a success for the club. These are exciting times for Chelsea fans, and the addition of Juan Mata has only increased the optimism already surrounding Stamford Bridge – its just a question of where to play him that remains to be solved.