Chelsea's manager Mourinho prepares to bring on substitute Mata during their Champions League soccer match against Basel at Stamford Bridge in London

Absent without leave: Where in the world are Shinji Kagawa and Juan Mata?

17 Comments

Four games into the Premier League season, there are many storylines, questions, concerns, surprises and talking points surrounding each team.

With new managers, we see them taking a squad they have been handed and mold it to the best of their ability into a squad that is theirs, something they can call their own.  Managers love to make their mark on a team, so that they can not only exploit their own strengths, but take as much credit for any subsequent success as possible.

However, some go too far in trying to make a squad their own.  Certain decisions go beyond the realm of “bettering the squad” and cross into the void of obvious squad tinkering for the sole purpose of making a statement.

To me, there are no managerial decisions more shocking thus far than David Moyes and Jose Mourinho banishing Shinji Kagawa and Juan Mata to the depths of their respective squads.

What Moyes and Mourinho have done is take arguably their most creative players and break them.

Juan Mata:

“I think Jose is searching for his team. After their defeat to Basel in the Champions League on Wednesday, I questioned whether Mourinho knew his best starting XI; If you look at the players they’ve got and the opportunities he’s got to change it, I can’t understand – and neither can anyone in football – why Juan Mata isn’t starting.” -Jamie Redknapp, Sky Sports and Daily Mail pundit

Jose Mourinho has decisively – and publicly – excluded the Spaniard from his squad this entire season. He hasn’t been totally absent, starting two matches against Aston Villa and Everton.  However, a closer examination of those matches show he was clearly utilized incorrectly, thrown to the wolves so Mourinho could justify his decision to bench the 25-year-old.

Last season Mata was selected as Chelsea’s Player of the Season by both the fans and the players. He was nominated for Young Player of the Year. And he was selected to the PFA Team of the Season.

Now? Let’s revisit the Aston Villa match from back on August 21st.  With fellow attacking midfielder Oscar also in the lineup, Mata was shoved over onto the wing…at least, that’s what the teamsheets said. In actuality, Mata was a lost man on the pitch.  Have a peek at Oscar’s passing dashboard.  There is a clear, direct purpose to his play, and an attacking mindset.  25 of his 63 passes were in the attacking third, and 26 of his passes went forward.

Now look at Mata’s dashboard. Certainly doesn’t look like a right winger to me. Not only is he spread out all over the pitch, but there’s no purpose to his play. He went 47-of-49 passing, nice. But a closer look shows only 8 of his passes were in the attacking third (and both his misses), and just 9 went forward.  Where’s the creativity? Needless to say, he created no chances to Oscar’s 2. Mata was substituted off in the 65th minute.

Not only is Mata being used sparingly, but when he’s on the pitch he’s being completely misused. Mourinho said he wants Mata to “adapt” to the way “we (Mourinho) want to play.” Adapt? Yes, let’s remold a Team of the Season member to something he isn’t.  That seems logical.

But don’t worry everyone. Mourinho’s going to be playing Mata against Swindon Town midweek in the Capital One Cup, so that should make up for it. Clearly.

Shinji Kagawa:

“Shinji Kagawa is one of the best players in the world and he now plays 20 minutes at Manchester United — on the left wing. My heart breaks. Really, I have tears in my eyes.” -Jurgen Klopp, manager of Borussia Dortmund back in May.

Someone call Harry Potter – Shinji Kagawa’s stolen his invisibility cloak.

A player who was not so long ago a prized possession of a Borussia Dortmund squad reaching new heights at a meteoric pace, Kagawa has since vanished.

source: ReutersIt has been a disappearance of much less publicity than in Mata’s case, making it all the more baffling.  We saw Sunday at the Etihad a Manchester United squad not only with an aging defense prone to speed, but a monstrous black hole in the middle of their attack.

United’s midfield of Michael Carrick, Marouane Fellaini, and Wayne Rooney certainly have their strengths, but with Vincent Kompany latched onto the hip of Rooney the entire match – like white on rice, as they say – it was void of any creativity. Rooney was isolated, stranded on an island, and Kompany pounced on the opportunity to lock his man down.

Against Manchester City, do you know how many times Danny Welbeck received the ball in the penalty area? It happened three times. Do you know how many times Wayne Rooney received the ball in the penalty area? Twice.

Kagawa can pass just as well as Carrick. He can score goals – he bagged 28 in 65 matches with Broussia Dortmund. What Manchester United are missing is Kagawa’s dribbling abilities.

They couldn’t break down Manchester City’s defense partly because they didn’t have anybody on the pitch with the right key to the vault.  They couldn’t pass their way through that defense, with the central midfield trio going 63-of-84 (75%) in the attacking third.  They sure as heck could have used someone to slice the back four open with a good run or two on the ball.  Kagawa.

Here’s a suggestion: Ashley Young was an atrocity on the wing to finish last season, and has been more of the same this year.  Why not replace him on the left side with Danny Welbeck, pair Rooney and Kagawa in the middle, and keep Fellaini to hold behind them? Sure, it’s an attacking lineup, and you lose Carrick’s passing and defense, but the 32-year-old only made two tackles and one interception against City, is that really a major loss? Rooney and Kagawa feeding Robin van Persie is a salivating prospect.

At the very least rotate Kagawa and Rooney. With the mercurial English playmaker out due to injury, Moyes instead turned to the most overrated player in the Premier League in Tom Cleverley. United proceeded to lose 1-0 at Anfield.

If the 4-1 loss to their bitter rivals wasn’t enough of a wake-up call for Moyes, I’m not exactly sure what will change his mind.

Ultimately, it’s the manager’s decisions.  The sad part is, the longer this continues, the more broken Mata and Kagawa, and watching the talent these two possess rot on the bench is more than sad – it’s outrageous.

So whose absence do you think is the more egregious error by their manager? Or do you think Moyes and Mourinho are actually making the right decision?

Premier League roundup: Wins for Chelsea, Liverpool; Draws for six others

HULL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 01:  Diego Costa of Chelsea celebrates scoring his sides second goal with his team mates during the Premier League match between Hull City and Chelsea at KCOM Stadium on October 1, 2016 in Hull, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The European tournament week left us with just five Premier League clubs in action on Saturday, but we still saw some sensational goals and stunning saves.

[ MORE: PST talks with Michael Bradley ]

For the most part, we saw expected results aside from West Ham’s failure to capitalize against visiting Middlesbrough.

Here, recapped, is our Saturday in England’s top flight.

Swansea City 1-2 LiverpoolRECAP

James Milner converted his fourth penalty kick of the season to complete Liverpool’s road comeback over Swansea City, casting further doubt on Francesco Guidolin‘s time as Swans boss. Roberto Firmino equalized off a Philippe Coutinho free kick after Leroy Fer gave the hosts an early lead.

West Ham United 1-1 MiddlesbroughRECAP

West Ham will be happy to have “stopped the rot” and not lost a fifth-straight game, but it took some “pure magic” from Dimitri Payet to avoid another loss at the Olympic Stadium. Cristhian Stuani netted early to give Boro a road lead, but Payet dribbled through the 18 before cutting the ball across his body and past Victor Valdes.

Hull City 0-2 Chelsea — RECAP

The Blues ended their three-match winless skid in style, working very good possession and build-up before breaking through after the hour mark with Willian and then Diego Costa. Chelsea now starts a brutal five match run which includes Premier League matches against Leicester, Manchester United, Southampton, and Everton.

Sunderland 1-1 West Bromwich AlbionRECAP

Nacer Chadli has proven a good buy for the Baggies so far, as the ex-Spurs man scored again, but Patrick Van Aanholt continued his knack for big goals by pulling back a point for the woeful host Black Cats.

Watford 2-2 BournemouthRECAP

The Cherries had a pair of leads thanks to Callum Wilson and Josh King, and Jack Wilshere hit the post twice in a game the visitors could have and maybe should have claimed. But Troy Deeney and exciting sub Isaac Success nabbed goals for the Hornets as the two sides split the points.

VIDEO: Former players, journalists reflect on Wenger’s 20 years at Arsenal

Leave a comment

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger is celebrating his 20th year in charge of the storied Premier League club, and the accomplishment bears discussing.

In an age of managerial turnover, the Frenchman has maintained a consistent hold of the Gunners, and is widely viewed as a wonderful company man.

[ MORE: PST talks with Michael Bradley ]

In the above video, several former Gunners join media members to discuss the genius that is Wenger.

Enjoy!

Conte revels in Chelsea intensity in controlling win at Hull City

HULL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 01:  Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea reacts during the Premier League match between Hull City and Chelsea at KCOM Stadium on October 1, 2016 in Hull, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The intensity from Chelsea’s players in their 2-0 victory at Hull City was a sight for Antonio Conte‘s sore eyes.

Actually, that might be understating it.

“I like it when the team plays in this way,” Conte said after the win. “I like it so much.”

[ MORE: Hull City 0-2 Chelsea ]

The Blues controlled the match at the KC Stadium long before Willian and Diego Costa hit bullets past a helpless David Marshall to seal Chelsea’s 11th, 12th, and 13th points of the young Premier League season.

Conte loved the industry from his club in breaking a three-match losing streak.

From the BBC:

“We are working very hard and I am sure we can improve a lot if we continue to work in this way. I am pleased for all the players because in these situations because we have a clean sheet. In previous games we conceded too many goals. To finish with a clean sheet is very important. We also scored two and the performance is good. We must follow this with work, work, work!”

“We can improve and we must improve a lot and continue to work. After these two defeats it’s not easy to work because two defeats for Chelsea are heavy defeats. But this was a good answer.”

Yeah… he’s pretty intense. Is anyone going to take his “work, work, work” soundbite and work it into a Rihanna remix?

The Blues will need to work, as the schedule starts a brutal run after the international break: home to Leicester City and Manchester United, away to West Ham in the EFL Cup, and then on the road to Saints and home for Everton.

Adrian, Bilic praise Messi-like equalizer from “pure magic” Payet

West Ham’s Dimitri Payet, left, and Middlesbrough’s Marten de Roon challenge for the ball during the English Premier League soccer match between West Ham and Middlesbrough at The London Stadium  in London, Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016.(AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
AP Photo/Frank Augstein
Leave a comment

To hear West Ham goalkeeper Adrian describe it, the Irons should start streaming their training sessions so we can see more magic from Dimitri Payet.

West Ham’s talisman rescued a point for his struggling club when he essentially worked six Middlesbrough players and delivered a terrific finish in a 1-1 draw at Olympic Stadium in London.

[ WATCH: Payet’s wondergoal ]

Adrian says they see that a lot.

“Payet is like that in training,” the goalkeeper said. “He scored like a Lionel Messi goal at Barcelona. It is a massive goal to us.”

[ MORE: West Ham 1-1 Middlesbrough ]

The goal truly was massive, as the Irons avoided losing five in-a-row. They are still in the relegation zone, but baby steps.

Here’s WHUFC head coach Slaven Bilic:

“It was an unbelievable goal, it was a pure magic. It was only a shame it wasn’t a winning goal. We needed that moment of class from our best player to lift the whole team up.”