On Thursday night in Switzerland, Chelsea had reason to be grateful to one of our players capable of proving deadly when striking a dead ball.
As free-kick goals go, the winner against Basel raised questions about the attempted stop by opposition goalkeeper Yann Sommer, but regardless of that, David Luiz had the ability to send the ball past the wall and keep it on target.
We’ve not lacked for free-kick takers in recent times, with the departed Didier Drogba, Michael Ballack and Alex fresh in the memory, and Thursday night scorer David Luiz plus Juan Mata and Frank Lampard the current specialists.
His winner in Switzerland on Thursday was David Luiz’s fourth goal from a direct free-kick this season. Mata has two to his name – one in the win away to Arsenal and his strike that beat David De Gea when Manchester United visited in the league in October.
There is variety in our free-kick armoury, as Mata explains.
‘David and Lamps, they are able to shoot from long distance well and I prefer to shoot closer to the edge of the box,’ he says. ‘And obviously they are right-footed and I am left-footed so we are different.
‘We three of us, we also have different contact with the ball. David kicks the ball really well with the instep. I try to do the same and Frank is able to do it with the top of the boot and get a strong shot.’
With Mata a specialist from around the edge of the penalty area, he requires the ball to change trajectory more acutely than if further out. That’s if he is not to miss the goal as well as the defenders in front of him. He explains his primary objective.
‘The first aim is to try to pass the wall and if the ball goes over it, it is then difficult for a goalkeeper because if it is close to the wall, he hasn’t enough time to react.’
Unlike some free-kick takers – Drogba for instance who developed his technique by studying the renowned one of Juninho, the Brazilian who played many years in the French league rather than the erstwhile Middlesbrough playmaker – Mata had no particular role model when learning this aspect of his trade.
‘I just tried to do it on my own,’ he says. ‘I train a lot, since I was a kid. I like to train with a wall, I like to train with a goalkeeper after the training and I really enjoy doing it.’
Tomorrow (Sunday), the day of the game against Swansea, is Mata’s 25th birthday. He is entering the age range often reckoned to be a footballer’s peak years. He’s no longer a young Juan as he admits.
‘Time flies, it feels like yesterday I was 20,’ he smiles. ‘I think the best gift for me will be a victory.’