After watching the Euro 2012
championships so far, something occurred to me. The importance of
Juan Mata to Chelsea next season. That may seem like a strange thing
to be thinking, (A) because he didn't even play against Italy and
(B), well, we may already be aware of the fact after his performances
for the Blues last season.
Anyway, being a betting man and scouring down the list of genuine top scorers at the European Championships who would be vying for the Golden Boot, there was a distinct lack of true number nine talent. You can pencil in Germany's Mario Gomez and perhaps Holland's Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, (who is much more of a traditional number nine than Robin van Persie is) and England's Wayne Rooney as true world class quality in that position. That's about it. Can you really put your finger on an Alan Shearer, an Ian Wright, a Gianluca Vialli, or a Ruud van Nistlerooy, some of the best number nine type style centre forwards to grace the Premier League, at Euro 2012? Look around Euro 2012 and you will see that that player is pretty much a rare commodity. Modern number nine's seem to not enjoy getting into the box too much, and teams are relying more and more on that magical number ten to fire them to glory.
What are we talking about as a number nine and a number ten? Well, this is what you expect. You want a number nine in the box, driving at the penalty spot. You want him “goal-hanging” ready to bundle the ball into the back of the net from the six yard box. If you are attacking out wide, you know that that number nine is going to be in the box. As for the number ten, he is going to be pulling the strings outside of the box, creating space, playing in the main forward. Chipping in with a long distance shot or two. This combination was the ideal way to go when the 4-4-2 was actually in fashion. Of course now, forward thinking teams generally go with one striker and a couple of wide support players cutting in. So has the 4-3-3 been the death of the number nine in the modern game?
Well, it seems like he true talent is in the number 10 shirt. That wonderful position which drops behind the main striker, linking up the midfield and attack. Now you start delving into the position where some of the most famous names in not only European, but world football, are lingering. Mesut Oezil from Germany. Lionel Messi of course from Argentina. The rising star of Russia, Alan Dzagoev. Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, Andres Iniesta from Spain. Holland's Wesley Sneijder. The list really could go on, and clearly number ten is the new number nine in football. They are the ones who pick the ball up deeper, run at people and frankly make things happen.
Just some examples from Euro 2012, which made me realise the importance of having a great number ten, in which we do have in Juan Mata. France's Karim Benzema seemed to have an allergy to the England penalty box, and just wanted to drop so deep towards his midfield that Les Bleus were short up front. Spain didn't even bother playing with a recognised striker, because they have Iniesta and Fabregas to pull those strings in the number ten position, so who even needs a striker. England went with two up top, and because neither of them had the ability to drop behind the other and orchestrate things, there was no link up between midfield and attack. The only two other strikers who have really shown up at Euro 2012 has been the veteran and former Blues man Andriy Schevchenko and Denmark's Nicklas Bendtner. Hardly high class, world beating standards. So teams are coping without number nines.
So that is how precious the number ten is, and thank goodness for Juan Mata. Chelsea need the little big man, regardless of who is playing in front of him. He has been called Fernando Torres' cheer-leading squad for all the encouragement he has given El Nino, but Mata matters more. I was thinking of who Chelsea really should be building the team around next season. Fernando Torres? Eden Hazard? No. It should be Juan Mata. The little Spaniard is the one to build the team around. If he is used correctly in that number ten spot, linking in the likes of Eden Hazard to the play from out wide is going to be crucial for Chelsea. He has the vision. He was one of the Premier League's top assist leaders last season, and frankly with an in-form number nine in front of him his tally would have been higher. Still, even with the limited options ahead of him last season he excelled. That's why he matters so much.