Find out which of Juan Mata’s former Chelsea team-mates most impressed the Spanish playmaker ahead of his return to Stamford Bridge with Manchester United on Monday night.
It’s almost hard to believe that more than six years have passed since Mata traded life in west London for the North-West, having won the Champions League, FA Cup, Europa League and two Player of the Year awards in the two full campaigns he spent as a Blue.
Obviously that short but sweet time playing at the Bridge left a big impact on Mata, as he named several of his former team-mates in his Perfect XI for a feature in the latest issue of FourFourTwo magazine.
The first to get the nod for Juan Mata FC was Branislav Ivanovic, the Serbian right-back who established him as a cult hero with his goalscoring antics and never-say-die defensive style.
‘At Chelsea, he could play at right-back or centre-back and be excellent in either position,’ said Mata. ‘He was strong, very difficult to beat one-on-one – and even effective at the other end of the pitch, too.’
While the selection of Ivanovic may come as a bit of a surprise to some readers, most would be able to predict the identity of the other Chelsea members of his Perfect XI with confidence.
Joining Ivanovic in defence, and lining up alongside Manchester United’s Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra, is John Terry.
Our legendary No26 has lifted more trophies for the club than any other skipper before him, graduating from the youth ranks to become an almost unanimous choice as the best defender in Blues history.
‘A top header of the ball and a leader for Chelsea,’ said Mata, succinctly summing up the two best attributes of JT. ‘I’d always look for him with my free-kicks and he’d be there – I gave him a lot of assists! He could turn an average cross into a good one…’
From one Blues legend on to another – no prizes for guessing Frank Lampard as part of a midfield three, alongside Michael Carrick and Ryan Giggs.
It was during Mata’s time at the club that Super Frank became our all-time leading scorer, when he surpassed Bobby Tambling’s tally of 202 in a game against Aston Villa in 2013, and our current head coach was also the man to wear the armband in JT’s absence as we lifted the Champions League and Europa League trophies.
‘Simply, one of the best players in the history of English football,’ he said, echoing the view of just about every Chelsea supporter. ‘Frank scored so many goals for a midfielder.
‘He could switch the play, pick a pass and also arrive in the penalty area at the right time to find the net. His goalscoring was his best attribute – how many midfielders have that? Oh, and he could take penalties brilliantly, too.’
That last point leads us on nicely to the final Chelsea man to get the nod for Mata’s team: Didier Drogba.
The Ivorian, of course, converted the winning penalty in the shootout against Bayern Munich in 2012, but before that he also equalised late on in the Champions League final when he headed in Mata’s corner.
Drogba was the ultimate big-game player, scoring in numerous other finals during his time as a Blue, and in Mata’s team he would link up with David Villa up front.
‘We’ve shared some fantastic memories together, especially that night in Munich when Didier scored the winning penalty in the 2012 Champions League final. He could create goals for himself, taking the ball in the middle of the pitch and driving forward, and was so powerful in the air.’