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The FA Cup Fourth Round

The patient Juan

Out-of-favour Juan Mata says he is prepared to earn a place in Jose Mourinho's Chelsea starting XI.

Last Updated: 01/11/13 at 15:12

Mata was superb for Chelsea in the 2-0 League Cup win at Arsenal

Mata was superb for Chelsea in the 2-0 League Cup win at Arsenal

The best things come to those who wait. And Juan Mata has been nothing if not patient.

The first quarter of this campaign has contained the first, unforeseen stalling of the 25-year-old's Chelsea career following two extremely successful seasons, during which he has helped the Blues win both of Europe's major club competitions and claimed their player of the year award twice in succession.

Yet so far in 2013/14 he has started less than half of his side's Premier League games and was notably consigned to the bench for the encounters against both Manchester clubs and Tottenham.

Jose Mourinho has insinuated the player is not yet disciplined enough defensively for a role within the Portuguese's desired system.

However, in the 2-0 Capital One Cup victory over Arsenal at the Emirates on Tuesday, Mata's superb performance belied his manager's criticism and his recently-enforced fringe status.

His guile and touch have never been in doubt, but on Tuesday these were complemented by a renewed focus and work-rate. He offered a constant outlet to cornered opponents, made a number of key interceptions to halt Arsenal attacks and misplaced just two of his 54 passes throughout the game. That's a 96.3% completion rate.

To top it all, he also began the move that led to Cesar Azpilicueta's first goal and scored the second himself with a swerving drive from the edge of the box after deftly controlling Willian's header.

As an advert for his future involvement, it could not have been more convincing.

"Tuesday night (against Arsenal) was a happy night for everyone," Mata told Sky Sports. "Personally, I was happy that I was able to help the team with a goal.

"I am happy because I played and that is all I want to do. Football is what happens on the pitch, when we have to go out and do the job and that is when I enjoy it the most. Yesterday is a day to be proud of the team."

Mata's situation is a common one at the very top of the modern club game, where large, talent-packed squads leads to rotation and the possibility of stints out of the first XI for even the very best players.

Mourinho has favoured Oscar to Mata in the number 10 position in the Chelsea side

This is certainly the case at Chelsea, especially in Mata's position, where they have Brazilian international Oscar, Balon d'Or nominee Eden Hazard, club royalty Frank Lampard, highly-rated German Andre Schurrle and recent big-money signing Willian leading the race for places, with Kevin De Bruyne and Marco van Ginkel waiting in the wings.

Mourinho has already made it known that Oscar - one of the league's in-form players - is his chosen number 10 - the role Mata covets.

And while the Spaniard denied that his manager had demanded specific changes to his game, he did admit that he - like any other player in the Blues squad - has to buy into the boss' philosophy if he is to cement a spot in the side.

"He (Mourinho) has a way to play," said Mata, who was speaking at a promotional event for the videogame Assassin's Creed: Black Flag. "He wants everyone pressing and committed. That is what we have to do."

As for the increased competition for places, Mata feels this can only be a positive thing for him and the club.

"It is good for me. It is good for everyone," he claimed. "The more competition you have, the more you train to get better to be in the first XI.

"I know I am playing in a top side. It is the same for the international side, where we have a lot of players fighting for two or three positions.

"But that is football. At the end of the day, it is the manager who has to make the decisions and all I can do is make it difficult for him."

Not every modern player would react with such patience and professionalism, especially if they had a World Cup and European Championship winners' medal hanging at home.

Mata's attitude is laudable, though, and, you would suspect, the most effective approach through which to earn himself a place in Mourinho's first XI.

After all, it worked for Joe Cole, who secured the Portuguese's trust through hard work and established himself as a major asset for the Blues.

"Obviously I would like to play every game, like everyone in the squad," admitted Mata.

"As part of my duty and what I have to do to be happy with myself is to be ready to play. That is what I am doing and have always done throughout my career.

"You just have to keep going. I always train with hunger. That is the way I understand football. That is all I can do; to keep going and get ready for a chance.

"When I play I just play to try my best and to enjoy it, because I love to play and to help my team and to win. It is not to prove anything.

"I was happy on Tuesday because I left everything I had on the pitch. That is all I try to do and that is why I can go to bed happy with myself."

The best things come to those who wait. If there is any justice, Juan Mata will not be waiting much longer.

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