The appointment of Rafael Benitez as Chelsea manager on November 21 was one of those heart-sinking moments Fantasy managers experience each season. Suddenly a solid offensive unit of nailed-on stars was to be managed by a man known more for squad rotation and defensive strategy than attacking swagger.
For Juan Mata owners, it was a devastating blow. Between Gameweek 5 and Gameweek 12, which proved to be Roberto Di Matteo’s last match in charge, the Spanish midfielder had racked up 60 points during a superb run that included four goals, six assists and eight Fantasy Premier League (FPL) bonus points. Averaging 8.5 FPL points per game during that above-mentioned period, it seemed the last thing Mata needed was Benitez in charge.
At the start of Benitez’s tenure, Mata owners’ fears were proved right. Not only did Gameweek 13 see Chelsea shuffle their way through a drab 0-0 draw with Man City, in Gameweek 14 the former Valencia man fell victim to his countrymen’s famous rotation policy and started on the bench. Mata did manage to accrue 28 minutes at home to Fulham that day but after the resultant goalless draw, Fantasy managers could be forgiven for tossing in the towel and waving goodbye to the points potential of Chelsea’s attacking assets.
Further sorrow was to follow in Gameweek 15 when West Ham beat Chelsea 3-1 at Upton Park. The game did at least prove comforting for Mata owners, with the Spaniard starting and scoring his side’s only goal. As the team get used to their new manager’s focus on defence and a more rigorous fitness regime in training, though, they have gradually built up the confidence to attack. In Gameweek 16 Chelsea quite simply humbled Sunderland, with Mata once again getting on the scoresheet, as two more FPL bonus points took his total bonus tally to 10 for the season.
Two Premier League starts in a row and a pair of goals in as many games is as good a sign there is that, after an initial slump, Mata could be a key attacking asset during the Benitez era. Chelsea’s December 5 Champions League clash with Nordsjaelland saw the London outfit winning 6-1 and added further fuel to the assertion that Mata is back as a key Fantasy asset – a goal and a trio of assists was a truly mouth-watering score, if converted into FPL or Sky Sports points.
Disappointment was to follow in the World Club Championship final earlier this month where Chelsea were beaten 1-0 by Brazilian side Corinthians, but there is still enough evidence in recent weeks to convince us that Mata is a deserved riser in our Watchlist. A goal and assist in last night’s Capital One Cup rout at Leeds was accompanied by a man of the match award as Mata’s fine form under his compatriot continued.
As Fantasy managers scour the market in order to replace the suspended Marouane Fellaini, Mata looks an enticing proposition. While other premium priced options such as Gareth Bale sit on four yellows, one away from a booking, Santi Cazorla is set for a blank Gameweek 19 after Arsenal’s Boxing Day clash with West Ham was postponed. Over 44,000 FPL managers have snapped Mata up this week – a clear sign that faith in his potential for points is on the rise again. Fixtures for Chelsea are mixed over the festive period (AVL, nor, eve, QPR) but the promise is there for Mata to add to his six goals and six assists for the season – those two home games with Villa and QPR look like particular Christmas crackers for the diminutive midfield schemer.
Regarding price, Mata still offers value in the FPL and Sky Sports game. While his cost remains at 8.9 in the latter game, Mata’s slow start to the season, caused by injury and fatigue, saw his FPL price plummet from a starting valuation of 9.5 to 8.8 in Gameweek 6. He’s been mainly rising since and is now once again back to his initial valuation of 9.5; not bad for a player who racked up 163 points, six goals and an incredible 16 assists in his top-flight debut last time round.
The only real downside is Benitez’s penchant for rotation. Last night’s game with Leeds was Chelsea’s eight in 24 days and with the likes of Victor Moses, Eden Hazard, Oscar, Marko Marin and even Ramires vying for berths in the attacking midfield three, the new man in charge has options aplenty should he choose to freshen up his starting XI over the hectic Christmas schedule. Of that group, Mata and Hazard look the most nailed on, though, and with Benitez keen to win over the Blues support, he can perhaps ill-afford to overlook his compatriot’s stunning form as the Blues look to get their faltering title bid back on track.