WORDS WITH: JUAN MATA
Having finished the 2012/13 campaign with not only a Europa League winners' medal, but also a second successive Chelsea Player of the Year award, Juan Mata has been speaking to the official Chelsea website, looking back on his second year in English football.
Over the next two days, he will give an insight into how it felt to win another European trophy as well as his fondness for hitting the back of the net. In the first of our two-part interview, he reflects on his individual award and stresses the importance of a winning mentality throughout the squad.
Last season will go down as one of the busiest in the club's history, with the final-day win over Everton at Stamford Bridge our 69th competitive match of a gruelling campaign.
For Mata, who last June was part of the Spain squad which competed - and eventually triumphed - at Euro 2012, the sound of the final whistle will have come as a welcome relief. The European Championships had preceded the London Olympics, where he was also involved, before he made 64 appearances over the course of the club season with Chelsea.
The Blues' playmaker had a pivotal role in helping the team win the Europa League and secure a return to the Champions League courtesy of our third-place Premier League finish. To cap it off, only 24 hours after we clinched a second successive European trophy in Amsterdam, Mata was presented with two awards in recognition of his outstanding form: the Player of the Year and Players' Player of the Year at the club's annual ceremony.
Typically modest, the 25-year-old pays tribute to those around him as he reflects on picking up the prizes.
'I couldn't have wished for any more in my time at the club so far,' Mata tells the official Chelsea website. 'Winning both the Champions League and Europa League, and winning the personal trophies for Player of the Year, it's been absolutely amazing.
'It's special because of the fact you spend every day with your team-mates and share all your good and bad moments, so I'm so grateful to all of them for helping me.
'Since I came here everything has been almost perfect for me, the only thing I want now is to keep going and hope the good luck stays with me.'
Following his involvement at the Euros last summer, where he came off the bench in the final to score in Spain's 4-0 win over Italy, and then the Olympics, there was only time for a short holiday before he joined up with the rest of the Blues' squad for our pre-season tour of the US.
From there, it was straight into friendly action, before we faced Manchester City in the FA Community Shield, with the beginning of the Barclays Premier League season following a week later.
Mata was heavily involved early on, but taking the bigger picture into account was soon given a rest by manager at the time Roberto Di Matteo.
'Maybe I didn't feel the benefits of the break immediately, in September or October, but I think it was really important in January, February and March, when our schedule became very busy and we were playing three games every week,' he says.
'I played a lot of games with the European Championships and Olympics coming after last season, so I think Robbie, the doctor and myself made the right decision to have a bit of a rest earlier in the season.'
While it may be true that Mata didn't notice the benefits of the hiatus straight away, the statistics tell a different story, as he scored six goals in as many games shortly after returning to the fold, including a priceless winner away at Arsenal.
It was almost a month later, though, just down the road from the Emirates, when his importance to the side was underlined in emphatic fashion. The Blues had been 1-0 up in a tight game but Tottenham Hotspur, under the stewardship of Andre Villas-Boas, the man who helped lure Mata to England, had turned the match on its head and taken a 2-1 lead.
Their advantage, though, would last only a matter of minutes, as Mata collected the ball just inside the Tottenham penalty area and drove it into the bottom corner to equalise. A few minutes later he struck again, racing on to a wonderful Eden Hazard pass to fire past Brad Friedel and put us 3-2 in front, before laying on a fourth for Daniel Sturridge right at the death.
It was a marvellous individual display, but perhaps more significantly it was the game which saw the relationship between him, Hazard and Oscar click, with the Tottenham defence struggling to contain their intricate link-up play and intelligent movement.
Mata agrees the arrival of the creative duo has helped bring his own game on to another level.
'As much as you play and understand each other, above all else it's a real pleasure for me to play alongside them both,' he says.
'Eden and Oscar are both young players and so talented. When I play with them I just try to assist, pass the ball and make good movements. I already feel that we understand each other really well, and hopefully it will only get better in the future.'
There is little doubt that Mata, since moving to Stamford Bridge in the summer of 2011, has bought into the philosophies and attitudes of the more experienced players around him. The winning mentality which has long been the hallmark of players such as John Terry and Frank Lampard, and has helped us to a number of trophies over the past 10 years, has been adopted by newer arrivals and the Spaniard acknowledges the importance of all pulling together.
'When you're playing with the likes of Petr, JT and Lamps, players that have won a lot of things with Chelsea, you just feel like you want to fight for the club.
'If you are in this squad you will be able to win more trophies, so the new players that come into the team, we feel we are playing for a top side and it's very important we try to fight in every single match.'
- Part two of the interview will appear on chelseafc.com tomorrow…