Why Juan Mata is the most under-rated player in the EPL
Gareth Bale, fantastic talent. Robin van Persie, fantastic striker. Luis Suarez, goal machine. These three are obviously the favorites to win the PFA Player of the Year award.
Gareth Bale has 21 goals and 8 assists in all competitions this season. van Persie has 23 goals and 8 assists and Suarez has 29 goals and 4 assists. Very impressive statistics indeed.
Now, what about 18 goals and 22 assists from the midfield? I would say that those statistics deserve a mention, at the least. But Juan Mata doesn’t get them. It is one of the very few reasons to state why he is the most under-rated player in the English Premier League.
We often include Mata in the same bracket as Santi Cazorla and David Silva. Cazorla has 11 goals and 8 assists this season while Silva has only 4 goals and 10 assists to his name. Still, most people I know rate Cazorla higher than they rate Mata.
Juan Mata is not your traditional “number 10″ and neither is he a full fledged winger. Juan Mata is an “inverted forward” who plays wide in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Eden Hazard and David Silva too are inverted forwards. Rather than staying in the hole behind the striker, these players take up wide positions and they influence the game from there.
Most top teams in the world today play a holding midfielder. Some teams even play with two holding midfielders (Xabi Alonso – Sami Khedira in Real Madrid). So, with two players holding the midfield, it is tough for a natural number 10 to lie back behind the striker and spray out the balls. This is why normal play makers like Mata and Silva have moved out wide so that they could cut in and create chances whenever they see fit.
Chelsea‘s current season has been turbulent and yet Mata has been the only steady figure in their team. He is their top scorer and top creator of assists. He creates, on average, 2.7 chances per game, which is bettered by only 4 players in the entire league. He has scored against Tottenham Hotspurs, Manchester United and Arsenal and he has managed all this despite being hunted down by defenders. Like all other Spanish players of this generation, Mata’s movement and vision is brilliant and the way he has employed them with the frantic pace and physicality of the Premier League should be applauded.
For instance, let us take last week’s game between Chelsea and West Ham United. Juan Mata started in the traditional number 10 position behind the striker, Demba Ba. Yet, if you see his heat map during the game, you will realize that he has been all over the park, predominantly operating from the left and right wings.
Not just this match; take any game and you will realize that Mata is the best Chelsea player on the pitch by a far distance. No other playmaker, not Silva and not Hazard, cover this much distance and roam all over the park as Mata does. In terms of work ethic, he is on par, if not better than, Wayne Rooney.
Like Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata too is an underrated defender. Not many Spanish forwards have the habit of helping out their full backs but Mata always covers his tracks and helps out in defense. He never gives away the balls cheaply and if he does, he tries as hard as he can to win it back. He is also very good in shutting down the space in front of him. Mata is also an underrated leader. He is a captain without the armband and he leads the team without others knowing that he is in charge. He may not be as vocal as John Terry but he is a leader just by example.
He has an average of 64.7 passes per game and his accuracy of passing is more than 85%, which is very impressive for a forward. So, how good is Juan Mata? Very good indeed.
His touch and his subtlety is nearly unmatched in the league. He had zero pre-season practice due to the European Championships and the Olympics but still has been Chelsea’s best player right from the start of the season. He is not as powerful as Suarez or Bale, he is not as glamorous with the ball as Hazard but Juan Mata has a subtle distinction that sets him apart from others. That is why he is the most underrated player in the English Premier League.