Juan Mata has been considering the possibility of a special reunion when the Champions League draw is made on Monday, ahead of what he expects to be a very tight game today.
Having progressed to the last 16 of the Champions League as group winners on Wednesday night, five possible European opponents await the Blues. One of those five – Galatasaray – has already been highlighted by Jose Mourinho as a mouth-watering tie, hardly surprising given they have in their ranks a man who, with his last kick of a football in a Chelsea shirt, won us the Champions League.
The tantalising prospect of a first meeting with Didier Drogba since he left the club in the summer of 2012 is not lost on Juan Mata. The diminutive Spaniard linked up so effectively with Drogba in the single season they shared at Stamford Bridge that he was able to witness, first hand, just how devastating the Ivorian striker can be. It was of course Mata’s corner that Drogba thumped home with barely two minutes left in Munich. And it was of course Drogba’s penalty that had Mata thumping the ground, tears of joy streaming from his face, in the Allianz Arena’s centre circle.
‘Didier was a legend here,’ Mata tells the official Chelsea website.
‘I guess that he would be very excited about coming back. He did a lot of great things for this club and scored a lot of very important goals. In fact, he scored probably the most important goals in the history of this club.
‘It would be difficult for us, though. He is still a top player and Galatasaray are a great team, but I think for the fans and for him it would be very special. Let’s see what happens.’
A pairing with Greek champions Olympiacos on Monday would present Mata with another, if lesser known, reconciliation, and he confirms that the Athens club’s boss, Michel, coached him when he was playing for Real Madrid’s B side earlier in his career.
With our next European venture still to be decided, though, Mata has been able to discuss definite future opponents this week. Reacting to the World Cup draw in his weekly blog, he spoke of the ‘good memories’ that victories against Holland and Chile in 2010 bring him – two nations in Spain’s group next summer. Mata reveals why enjoys penning his thoughts in the form of an online blog.
‘I do it because I like getting in contact with the fans. They always send me messages saying they like it and they are waiting for the next Monday to read it.
‘It’s a good way to express how I feel, what I think about English and Spanish football but also some things far from football, like different things to do in London.’
It is in London that Mata will spend the majority of the run-up to Christmas, in stark contrast to last year, when the squad travelled to Japan to compete in the Club World Cup. With this year’s festivities well and truly under way, including at Cobham, where the players enjoyed a special Christmas lunch on Thursday, Mata recalls that mid-season trip to the Far East and looks ahead to the more traditional festive period this time around.
‘I think as soon as you get to late November, early December, you start to think about Christmas,’ he says.
‘We are looking forward to that and to playing so many games . For me, for example, it’s really nice to play on Boxing Day because there is a special atmosphere in the stadium.
‘It will be very different from last season when we were in Japan. Despite the fact we lost, it was a great experience because you have to win the Champions League to be there. This year is normal so we just have to focus on the competitions that we have, which are the Premier League and the cups.’
That focus must continue today, against Crystal Palace. An upward surge in the Eagles’ fortunes has seen them win three and draw one of their past five games, during which time they have conceded just once. That’s the kind of form that a team hopeful of a European place would be happy with, not one trying to stave off relegation.
As one of the men charged with breaking down stubborn defences, Mata is able to highlight the difficulties we can expect to face today, and how we must overcome them if we are to keep up our challenge at the top end of the table.
‘It’s always hard when you’re facing a team that close lines, don’t let you find spaces and stay really close together,’ he explains.
‘It’s going to be tight, but I think we have enough players to try to beat their defence and midfield. We will just try to have the ball, but that’s not enough – you have to look for the goal too.
‘We need to win because we lost the last game in the Premier League away to Stoke, and we will try to get the three points because this month is very important if you want to be in the race for the title.’
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