The Blues are yet to win a league match this season when the Spanish maestro hasn't started, with the uninspiring 1-0 loss to QPR at home demonstrating how blunt they can be without Mata pulling the strings.
Considering the plethora of talented players Chelsea have at their disposal it would be ridiculous to say that they are completely dependent on the performances of one player for their success. However even the very best teams have a man they rely on, Messi and Ronaldo dominate even the greats at Barcelona and Real Madrid, and with Mata's performances reaching incredible levels this season, he has become the key to Chelsea success.
The problem with this is that Chelsea have not found a way to cope when without Mata in the side. He has delivered seven goals and eight assists already this season, and his inventive play in the final third is not adequately replaced by any of the battalion of other attacking midfielders they have. Without Mata starting Chelsea have drawn with and lost to QPR without scoring a goal, drawn 0-0 at home to Fulham, and drawn 1-1 at Swansea.
The major problem for Chelsea is that Mata will have to be rested at some stage. Few players have been involved in more football in the last 12 months, with Chelsea long cup runs last season added to by his selection for both the Spain European Championships and Olympics squads. Considering they spent over £80 million on attacking midfielders in the summer, they will have thought they had cover for Mata, but results so far have shown that he is irreplaceable in their side at the moment.
Rafa Benitez therefore faces a conundrum. Mata has to play against the big teams in the league, but Chelsea cannot afford to keep dropping points against the smaller teams that play more defensively against them. Mata seems to be needed in every match, but the risk of running him into the ground after his busy summer is too great. With Chelsea in the Europa League, Mata can perhaps be rested for those midweek games in the first couple of knockout rounds, but if Chelsea are set on winning that tournament, then Mata could end up playing on a Thursday and a Sunday.
Rafa Benitez might have considered getting Torres back to form his biggest challenge at Chelsea this season, but in reality it will be ensuring that he can get the best out of Juan Mata without overplaying him, because Chelsea look lost without their number 10 at the moment.
image: © Ronnie Macdonald