On a personal level, it’s been a season to remember for Juan Mata, and the diminutive playmaker is now looking for the team as a whole to finish it strongly, starting by booking a place in the Europa League final.
The Blues go into tomorrow’s semi-final second leg against Basel with a 2-1 advantage from last week’s game in Switzerland.
How important David Luiz’s last-gasp free-kick will prove to be remains to be seen, but Mata believes there is still work to be done.
‘The goal by David Luiz was very important for us, scoring two goals away from home is always good if you are playing in Europe,’ he said. ‘We know we still have to fight to be in the final, we got a great result in Switzerland but we still have to play another 90 minutes. They will fight until the last second so it will be tough.
‘They like to play with the ball, they have players with quality and they showed in the second half [in the first leg] they are able to do it, that’s why I said it will be tough.
‘They are at a level where they are playing in the semi-final of the Europa League, if they are there it’s because they are good side.
‘It’s the kind of game that can be risky for us. If we don’t go into it thinking about winning and defending well it will be difficult. I think the fans are going to support us from the first minute because without them it’s more difficult for us.’
Mata’s first season in English football culminated with success in both the Champions League and FA Cup, while the Spaniard also walked away with the club’s Player of the Year award.
If anything, his second season, in which he has scored 18 goals, has seen an improvement in performances, so much so that the player who turned 25 last Sunday was nominated for the PFA Player of the Year award.
It’s been a hectic season for everybody at the club, but for Mata, who was on European Championship and London Olympic duty with Spain ahead of the campaign, the demands have been even higher.
‘I just try to be fit every week and every game because I like to play,’ he explained. ‘Since I came here it’s true I’ve played a lot of games, but I really enjoy it.
‘As a footballer, I want to play as many games as I can. It’s really good for me to have played the amount of games I have, the only thing I want is to keep playing and carry on as I’ve been doing.
‘For the team and the club it’s very important to have a chance to be in another European final. After winning the Champions League last season we have another chance to win a trophy that will be new to us, so it means a lot, for the club and the players.
‘Since we were out from the group in the Champions League, every time I watch the games I think it’s a shame, but on the other hand I would rather be positive and think we have a chance to win another trophy. To go out in the group was a disappointment for the club and for us, but now we have another chance to win a big trophy.’
Mata went on to praise the contribution of Rafael Benitez, as his fellow countryman attempts to steer us to Europa League glory and a top four finish in the Barclays Premier League.
‘Rafa is a manager who had great seasons in every club he’s been at,’ said Mata. ‘Since he came he’s tried to do his best, being with the team, analysing our rivals and preparing us for every game.
‘For me and the other players, he is a great manager. We are now trying to be in third position, which is our aim, and win a trophy. Hopefully the end of the season will be good for us and for Rafa as well, and that will be because of his job.
‘All I can say is that we are working well with Rafa. In training and in games we are all together trying to do the best for Chelsea, because we want the best for Chelsea. As a player, all I can do is try to perform to my best, and that’s what I’m trying to do.
‘As a professional you have to be able to to train, perform and win, no matter who the manager is. Since I came I’ve had three managers, I really enjoyed myself with all of them, now we are with Rafa and we have a chance to win a trophy with him.’
With the campaign’s climax only a matter of weeks away, the Blues face a balancing act in finishing the job in the Europa League as well as ensuring we are competing in Europe’s top competition next season.
Mata feels there is enough quality within the squad to achieve both targets, and having already lifted two trophies since moving to Stamford Bridge, is hungry for more.
‘Once you are in a semi-final you need to make a small step to be in the final,’ he said. ‘For me, our aim is to win this trophy and to be in the Champions League next season.
‘Chelsea are a club that deserve to be in the Champions League every season; we are in third position, we have four games to go, against the likes of Manchester United and Tottenham, and I think we can do both.
‘I would like to win the Premier League [in the future]. After winning the Champions League and FA Cup I would like to win this amazing trophy.
‘It’s a special competition, Chelsea have won it a few times in recent years, so why not? I think we have the players and the squad, we just have to be consistent throughout next season.’