£23.5m Chelsea man could decide the closest title race in Europe

With reports linking Juan Mata with a move to Atletico Madrid, the out-of-favour Chelsea man could play a huge part in the Spanish title race.

Have a quick glance at the La Liga table and you will see two clubs neck-and-neck at the top, separated by a goal-difference of just five.

But while many would expect the first two positions to be occupied by the usual suspects, there is a twist to this year’s Spanish title race; yes there is a club from Madrid, but no, it is not the one that possesses the two most expensive players in the game.

While Real Madrid sit in third place, five points behind the leaders, it is their fierce rivals Atletico Madrid who are not so much clinging on to Barcelona’s coattails as matching them stride for stride.

And this weekend, the top two go head-to-head at the Vicente Calderon Stadium, with the winners taking a vital step towards the biggest prize in Spanish domestic football.

Much has been written about the players Atletico may or may not be losing either this month or next summer. But in truth, the prospect of coach Diego Simeone selling any of his best players given his side’s current trajectory is surely unthinkable.

Instead he will attempt to strengthen, and the latest reports suggest Chelsea’s Juan Mata could be a loan arrival prior to a possible permanent move at the end of the current campaign.

Given Mata’s previous impact at Stamford Bridge, it remains baffling to many as to why Jose Mourinho has opted to use the Spaniard so sparingly. But that he has, and it now appears Chelsea’s Player of the Year for the previous two seasons could soon be swapping a title race in England for one in his homeland.

And if so, he has the talent and the determination to make the difference.

If he does make the move, the 25-year-old will no doubt wish to make up for lost time – especially in a World Cup year – and alongside Diego Costa, Koke et al, he will know he can transform his season from one of disappointment to one of delight.

While Barcelona have a fit again Lionel Messi to call on, Atletico could have a catalyst with a point to prove. And if Mata’s move does go through – and it remains a big if – it will be interesting to see who ultimately comes out on top.

image: © Wshjackson

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