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Chelsea’s Juan Mata clears up why he didn’t play against Hull City

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If you watched Chelsea’s 2-0 victory over Hull City on Sunday then you probably noticed one glaring omission from Jose Mourinho’s lineup – Juan Mata.

The Spanish playmaker, who was on the short-list for PFA Player of the Year last season after racking up 12 goals and 12 assists in the league, was named a substitute against the Tigers but ultimately went unused.

The reason behind Mourinho’s decision not to play Mata was widely believed to be due to one of two things – either the 25 year old was nursing an injury or he didn’t fit into the Chelsea boss’ scheme.

Evidence supporting Mata having an injury was available, although sparse. On August 9th, nine days before the Hull City match, The Guardian released an article noting that along with Frank Lampard and David Luiz, Mata was an injury concern.

When he wasn’t named to the Spanish National Team squad’s friendly against Ecuador on August 16th, most assumed it was due to Mata’s injury, which Mourinho had noted was a “little thing.”

But when Mata was then named in the 18 man roster to go against Hull City, it seemed the Spaniard’s fitness was up to par and he was good to go – until Mourinho handed a shock start to Kevin De Bruyne.

Therein triggered the buzz. Why had Mata been left out? Was he not part of Mourinho’s plans? Earlier in the summer there were murmurings that Mata didn’t fit into Mourinho’s counter-attacking style of play, and worse, that he might be transferred.

Were these seemingly ridiculous beliefs coming to fruition? It wasn’t an implausible premise.

Today, however, we Mata discussed exactly why he was left on the sidelines.

“After my first game in pre-season when I played 45 minutes against Inter, I felt my thigh was a bit tight, I carried on in the second game against Milan, but the day before Real Madrid I felt more pain,” Mata told the club’s official website. “We did a scan and I had a small problem, which can be dangerous in that muscle because I shoot with that left foot, so I stopped and didn’t train for a few days.

“I came back, worked with the physios and on Thursday last week trained with the team for the first time, not at 100 per cent, but trying to get to my best and now I feel better and am looking forward to playing and starting my season.”

So there you have it. The aim is for Mata to be ready for the Blues match against Aston Villa, set to kick off Wednesday at 1:45pm ET on NBCSN.

“Overweight” Costa comes to Mourinho’s defense

Diego Costa, Chelsea FC
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Diego Costa says he and his Chelsea teammates are to blame for Chelsea’s horrid start to the 2015-16 Premier League season.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Speaking Thursday, during a bit of downtime over the current international break (Costa was left out of Vicente del Bosque’s squad for Spain’s final two EURO 2016 qualifiers this week), Costa placed the majority of blame at the feet of the entire team, but went on to most harshly critique himself for coming into the season unfocused and “overweight.”

Costa, on his lack of fitness and form to begin the season — quotes from the Guardian:

“We know we’re not in the form we were supposed to be at the beginning of the season. We need to blame the players because we came back from holiday very confident, thinking we could go back into how it was last season, and then realized the team was already in a bad situation.

“I’m going to be very honest: maybe a few weeks ago, five or six weeks ago, I was not on top of my game. At least physically. We talk within the players and we know that, maybe at the beginning, we were not 100 percent as we were supposed to be when we got here. I got injured at the end of last season and then I went on holiday. Maybe I got out of my diet and, when I came back, I was not the way I was supposed to be. I was a little bit overweight. That affected my game. You can be selfish and blame it on the manager but I’m not going to do that. I’m responsible 100%, and so are the other guys.

Given that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said on Thursday he doesn’t quite know what’s wrong with the defending Premier League champions, hearing someone — anyone — speak up and explain the club’s worst start to a season in 37 years will surely be a welcome sound to any Blues supporter’s ears.

[ MORE: Liverpool appoint Klopp as manager | Allardyce to Sunderland? ]

Costa, who is eligible to return from suspension next weekend when Aston Villa visit Stamford Bridge, has scored just one goal in league play this season (six appearances) after scoring 20 in 26 games last season.

Sam Allardyce to open talks with Sunderland

Sam Allardyce, West Ham United FC
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Now that Liverpool have selected and named their new manager, it appears Sunderland are finally ready to move forward with their own managerial search. (That’s clearly a joke, because it implies Liverpool and Sunderland ever duke it out for the same managerial candidate.)

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Anyway, the Black Cats will have to hire someone to replace the recently-departed Dick Advocaat at some point. We all knew that, despite the fact he’s probably earned a shot at that level, Bob Bradley was never really going to be considered for the job. With that in mind, if you’re not going to endear yourself to the entire United States of America with this hire, you might as well go for the best unemployed manager who’ll actually consider your approach.

That’s what Sunderland chairman Ellis Short appears to have done, as it was reported Thursday that despite an initial reluctance from Sam Allardyce — let’s be honest, he actually was holding out hope for the Liverpool job — the 60-year-old most recently in charge of West Ham United was willing and ready to enter into negotiations with the northeastern club.

One of the major sticking points during Sunderland’s courting of Allardyce is expected to be his demand for autonomy in the transfer market as well as a sizable transfer budget to sign his own players during the January window.

[ MORE: Advocaat: Sunderland squad too thin, chairman to blame ]

Allardyce seems like the no. 1 guy you’d like to bring in to steady a capsized ship — cough Sunderland cough — in any situation. Not only does he have a successful track record in the Premier League, but he’s the kind of no-nonsense leader a club like Sunderland so desperately needs as they find themselves in yet another relegation battle just eight games into the new season.

Short hopes to have Allardyce signed, sealed and delivered when the Premier League returns to action next weekend. In that event, Allardyce’s first game in charge of Sunderland would be a trip to West Bromwich Albion. His first home fixture? Home to Tyne-Wear derby rivals Newcastle United, a club whose boisterous fanbase still holds a great deal of disdain for Big Sam. Sometimes the football gods really are looking out for us.