Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas has backed Juan Mata to overcome his current difficulties at Chelsea and force his way back into Jose Mourinho’s starting line-up.
Villas-Boas was Chelsea boss when Mata arrived at the club in 2011 and confirmed he enjoyed a "great personal and professional" relationship with the Spain international in his brief and turbulent stint at Stamford Bridge, yet the diminutive midfielder has slipped down the club’s pecking order since Mourinho returned as boss in the summer.
"With the talent he has, he will overcome it and jump back into the team, he is that special," Villas-Boas said of Mata, who was left out of the entire Chelsea squad by Mourinho for last weekend’s 2-0 Premier League victory against Fulham.
"It’s not my decision to not pick Mata. Before [when he was Chelsea boss] Mata was always involved in my starting XI. I enjoyed a great personal and professional relationship with Juan Mata, but it is not my decision now."
Villas-Boas was reluctant to discuss the progress Mourinho has made in his second stint as Chelsea boss as he insisted he "doesn’t care about Chelsea now", but he was eager to play down the hype that is gathering around his first touchline tussle with his former mentor this weekend.
"No one has anything to prove in this game," stressed Villas-Boas, who worked as a member of Mourinho's staff at Porto, Chelsea and Inter Milan.
"Jose’s career speaks for itself and mine I’m proud of what I have achieved. Hopefully the day that I quit, I continue to look at it in the same way.
"In my opinion, [the Villas-Boas v Mourinho match-up] does not mean a lot.
"We try to serve our players and the history of both clubs. We should be second figures to a spectacular game that means a lot to the fans and the players.
"This Chelsea team is still being built around Jose’s ideas. It has changed dramatically since he left first time. They have so many creative players, so much technical flair. Not so much of the players in the first few years we associated with Jose from 2004 to 2007.
"The type of players they have signed is a bit different in recent years. They are still bonding as a team and with all of Jose’s abilities, he will fine tune it to another winning team as he has done throughout most of his career."
Villas-Boas went on to confirm that the impressive form of striker Jermain Defoe has given him a selection dilemma ahead of the Chelsea game, with his side’s leading scorer this season pushing first choice striker Roberto Soldado for the starting spot as his lead marksman.
"He is doing extremely well," he said of Defoe. "He has been excellent every time he has been given the opportunity, scoring goals for fun, as he has done throughout his career and ticking all the boxes. He is competing for a position with Soldado, but he is responding extremely well.
"We have been making changes to our team in recent games, but the team is scoring and are avoiding the other teams from scoring and that shows the great spirit and ambition we have to reach our objectives. The players are approaching every game with great responsibility and professionalism."