Juan doesn't Mata in Europe

The obvious headlines will focus on the man who came in from the cold, but the real Chelsea story concerns the one they left behind.

Fernando Torres dominated. Juan Mata disappeared.

Jose Mourinho might have let the cat out of the bag during the 3-0 win in Schalke on Wednesday morning.

His team sheet was an obvious plot-spoiler. Torres was his main man. Mata was a real nowhere man.

The Blues boss may trot out the "horses for courses" line, claiming his diminutive Spanish master craftsman still has a pivotal role to play in midfield.

But this Champions League game was very much a must-win contest. And Mourinho picked his potential winners.


His critics have suggested he doesn't know his first 11. Wednesday's selections looked pretty close.

After losing their opening game against Basel, the Blues were aware of the significance of a positive performance in Schalke, particularly Mourinho who had never previously won on German soil.

Victory leaves them comfortably top of Group E with two home games to come. Defeat would have been unthinkable. Mourinho took no chances in his line-up.

In the games that really matter, there's no place for Mata.

Last season's club Player of the Year never made it onto the pitch.

Even when the fixture was effectively ended with 20 minutes still to play following Torres' second goal, Mata never figured in the pragmatist's plans.

And Mourinho was entirely vindicated.

When his sides euthanise European opponents this clinically, it's easy to see how the Portuguese tactician has triumphed twice in the Champions League.

Even with Ashley Cole missing through injury, the starting 11 at Schalke could be genuine continental contenders this season. Mata doesn't make the cut.

The Spaniard's replacement, Andre Schurrle, Oscar and Eden Hazard are a counter-attacking triumvirate moulded in their manager's image: Quick-thinking, efficient, penetrative and decisive.

They possess the essential midfield attributes to succeed in the Champions League.

Swop them for Goran Pandev, Wesley Sneijder and the old, ruthless, right-sided Samuel Eto'o and a remarkable resemblance begins to reveal itself. Replace Ramires and a more restrained, deeper-lying Frank Lampard with industrious Argentine duo Javier Zanetti and Esteban Cambiasso and an obvious metamorphosis takes place.

Mourinho is slowly forming an attractive, updated model of Inter Milan's 2010 Champions League winners.

The Inter side were schooled in the art of winning. There was no room for mavericks.

Mata has no like-for-like replacement in Mourinho's Inter Milan side.

Purists may pontificate about Chelsea's aesthetic shortcomings, but Mourinho sits pretty at the top of Group E on a night when Arsenal were defeated at home by Borussia Dortmund.

Schalke's systematic destruction laid down Chelsea's Champions League template for this season and underlined how irritating the modern game's obsession with stats can be.

The German club dominated possession, in both halves.

Camera operators spent much of the game training their lenses between Petr Cech's penalty box and the halfway line and the Chelsea goalkeeper made a couple of smart saves.

But Schurrle, Oscar, Hazard and Torres put down Schalke like a heartless farmer shooting a lame horse.

Torres' early opener was a fine poacher's header, but Chelsea's second and third goals epitomised the counter-attacking strategy that has defined Mourinho's European success.

For the second, Hazard scampered away before releasing Oscar on the half-way line. The Brazilian's often overlooked ability to hold off his marker for 30m is precisely the kind of muscular quality that Mourinho possibly feels Mata lacks.

Oscar finally picked out Torres, who rounded the goalkeeper for a confidence-boosting brace.

After the game, Mourinho said that Torres was "better adapted for this game".

The Spaniard should thrive in his manager's Champions League masterplan.

Quick breaks between back-pedalling centre backs have always been his preferred route to goal and were routinely exploited - by Xabi Alonso and Steven Gerrard at Liverpool.


Oscar and Hazard did the same on Wednesday. They combined again late in the game and might have handed Torres a hat-trick, but Hazard opted to add the coup de grace himself.

The move began with Schalke probing the Blues' penalty box.

Nine seconds later, Hazard rolled the ball into the net. That's the Champions League way for Mourinho.

Indeed, a moment early in the second-half typified why Torres and his teammates pose such a threat against continental competition.

In the 51st minute, Torres' terrific looping header from Lampard's free-kick cannoned of the crossbar.

But the free-kick was earned because Schalke's great hope, Julian Draxler, had been chased mercilessly by the indefatigable Schurrle.

In frustration, Draxler chopped down his fellow German to concede a needless free-kick from which Torres almost scored. Schurrle's work-rate led to the opportunity.

Perspiration has always been Mourinho's preferred path to inspiration. He trusts and rewards hard labour. Industry is more reliable then improvisation.

Mata's creativity might well have conjured a similar chance, but we'll never know.

He wasn't picked.

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