One to Watch - Juan Mata
Name: Juan Mata
Date of Birth: 28/4/88
Former Clubs: Real Madrid B, Valencia
League Appearances (Goals): 260 (70)
International Appearances (Goals): 20 (6)
Stat of the Day: Juan Mata has either scored or assisted 15 goals in 17 Premier League appearances this season
Player Profile: While the nation and his dog are still mourning the loss of Didier Drogba from the Premier League, Juan Mata must be quietly overjoyed at the exodus of the cheating yet talismanic striker. No longer there to provide the Ivorian with crosses and through balls from the wings, Mata is now profiting from Di Matteo and now Benitez`s decision to play him more centrally; his seven goals and eight assists providing clear evidence to the integral part Mata plays in this Chelsea side. Mata and his Spanish counterparts continue to invalidate the English culture of only big physical players making it professionally, as the diminutive Spaniard epitomises his country`s ethos of retaining possession, thinking assertively and unlocking defences meticulously.
Unlike many of Mata`s Chelsea teammates, the 5ft 7 playmaker actually appears quite likeable. Often still taking the plaudits when the team isn`t performing so well, always playing with a smile on his face and rarely stooping the lows of many foreign players when it comes to cheating and diving, Mata is a delight to watch. Never selfish nor individualistic, Mata has consistently displayed his ability to the world with Copa del Rey, Supercopa de Espana, UEFA U19 and U21 Championship, FA Cup and Champions League honours. Oh, and a World Cup. Bang on about the departure of Frank Lampard all you will, but with Mata coming to the fore with such prominence recently, his contribution will ensure the exit of Lampard will be only for sentimental reasons.
Mata joined Real Madrid at the age of 15, swiftly progressing through the junior teams and soon becoming a word of mouth phenomenon - some even dubbing him the new Raul. While featuring for the Juvenil A side in 2005-06, Mata grabbed 18 goals to enhance his reputation yet further. Real Madrid rewarded him with promotion to the Castilla side, where he grabbed 10 goals in 40 appearances playing as a central striker. Trouble was on the horizon though, as Real Madrid`s Director of Football made errors with Mata`s contract, meaning with as little as a few months left on his deal, negotiations were happening with other clubs. Valencia were one of several teams to make an offer to Mata as they capitalized on Madrid's mis-evaluation of Mata`s talent.
An injury to Valencia star Vicente, allowed Mata to cement his place in the team and a run of impressive performances saw him soon become an integral part of a talented Valencia team. He shone while operating in tandem with fellow Spanish stars David Silva and David Villa and his admirers soon grew to a wider audience. The departures of Silva and Villa cast doubt over Mata`s future, but he stayed for a further season finishing the season with 8 goals and 12 assists. Mata signed for Chelsea in 2011 for £23.5 million, finishing his Valencia career with 33 goals in 129 appearances - admittedly his effect on the Valencia team during his stay in Spain far more telling than mere statistics.
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