Mata key to Chelsea formation
Rafa Benitez has admitted that the influential form of Juan Mata is why he won't change his system to include both Demba Ba and Fernando Torres in the FA Cup semi-final on Sunday, while also insisting the Spanish playmaker should be considered for player of the season.
Mata has generally played in the centre of Chelsea's fluid attacking midfield trident, which has meant the two strikers have been rotated.
Yet, despite Benitez deploying both Ba and Torres to some effect late on in the 2-1 defeat to Manchester City, the Stamford Bridge boss is unwilling to affect a role which has seen Mata score 18 goals and provide 24 assists this season.
"I explained before, we have strikers who are doing well, both [of them]," Benitez said. "At the same time, we have a line of three players behind the strikers who are quite offensive, score goals and have an impact in the games.
"If you change the shape, you have to change these players, players who can be very influential in the game like Mata, who's done well in the middle but would have to go wide. Can you be sure it would be better?
"We had to do something on Sunday and keep those influential players on the pitch, but it can be difficult sometimes. It's an option, but it depends on the other team, your team.
"[Eden] Hazard, Oscar, Mata, [Yossi] Benayoun... they can play in the middle and they can all score goals. It's just Mata who's scoring goals and giving assists at the moment, a player who has 18 goals and 29 assists.
"Over the whole season, analyse his performances, and he should be considered [for player of the year] for sure. He's played a lot of games, a lot of goals and assists. To have played two games every week for months, he's been so good.
"If you analyse games and players in the Premier League, you have good players in every team. Mata is our player and he's doing really well, a very good professional, and his numbers are fantastic."
Despite knowing the player well, Benitez admitted he was surprised at how exquisite Mata's technique and turns were in four-on-one training possession games.
"The quality he did was amazing. He did it in a video with the national team. He's done it in training here, two or three times... I won't say [who]. He did it in training today, and he's done it in other sessions as well. Game intelligence is key. He's very clever, he finds space and has quality, vision."