x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Supporting roles of Mata, Hazard and Carrick as crucial as the lead

Andy Mitten finds Chelsea midfielders Juan Mata and Eden Hazard and United's Michael Carrick are vital cogs in their teams' wheels.

Michael Carrick has filled in for the veteran Paul Scholes' absence at Manchester United. Ian Walton / Getty Images
Michael Carrick has filled in for the veteran Paul Scholes' absence at Manchester United. Ian Walton / Getty Images

Of all the individual player of the year awards, the PFA Player of the Year is the one most valued by players.

Being targeted for a vote by their fellow professionals holds more cachet, something the six senior nominations for this seasons' award, to be announced on Sunday, appreciate.

Gareth Bale is the favourite, followed by current holder Robin van Persie and Luis Suarez. The other three on the shortlist, Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Michael Carrick, are outsiders.

Mata is fourth in the running. The 24-year-old Spaniard has been central to the Chelsea side who are still in Europe and have reached the FA Cup final. The European champions may have hoped for more this season, but the player they signed from Valencia in 2011 for £23.5 million (Dh133m) has delivered throughout.

He has played 67 appearances times for club and country so far this season, scoring 19 goals, 18 for Chelsea. More than that, he has made 31 assists in total, with his 12 in the top-flight a league high.

Mata will end the season with over 70 games played, a level he is unlikely to reach again because Chelsea probably will never be involved in six different cup competitions as they have been this season.

The playmaker is used to playing a lot he was Chelsea's most used outfield player last season with 58 appearances.

Mata could be excused for wanting a break, but he claims that he still feels "fresh" and his performances don't belie that. He claims that yoga helps get him in the right frame of mind, that his confidence is improving, too.

"In terms of confidence, I'm still growing," he said last week. "But it's easy to do that when you're enjoying yourself. It's vital a player feels important in the team and, personally speaking, all the managers I've worked with here have given me that backing and confidence.

"They have told me to control games. I had it from Andre Villas-Boas, from Robbie Di Matteo at the beginning of this season, and I've felt the confidence of Rafa [Benitez]. It means everything to feel important for the side."

As Chelsea's managers have changed, Mata has remained a constant. His balance, awareness, passing and technique are approaching the levels of other diminutive Spanish attacking midfielders such as Xavi and Andres Iniesta.

Closer to Stamford Bridge, he is already compared with Chelsea's greatest ever player, Gianfranco Zola. Teammate and fellow nominee Hazard said this week that Mata has been Chelsea's best player this season.

Such has been his impact, club legends like Frank Lampard and John Terry are now peripheral figures compared to Mata, who loves London life so much that teammates accuse him of also being a tour guide.

Mata has scored against Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham, adding assists against all three. He may not win the PFA Player of the Year, but he could still win the Europa League and the FA Cup to add to his World Cup, European championship, Champions League and FA Cup winners' medals.

It is just a shame that he could not add the Club World championship and European Super Cup to that list this season, but it was not for lacking of trying.


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