Chelsea midfielder Juan Mata see star status continue to grow

Midfielder has been in exceptional form this term

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The Independent Football

Standing a mere 5ft 7in tall, Juan Mata has been carrying a heavy burden in a Chelsea shirt for most of this season. The weight of expectation on his shoulders has been huge throughout the campaign as he is tasked with being the team's main source of inspiration.

With Chelsea defiantly continuing their tactic to play with one striker in order to field the Spanish international in the No 10 position he craves, there is a lot of pressure on him to repay their faith.

The statistics going into the west London derby certainly provided strong evidence he is not letting anyone down. Indeed, the calls for him to be considered for player of the year honours are growing ever louder.

After all this is a man who had been credited by interim manager Rafael Benitez on the eve of the game with 29 assists on top of the 18 goals he has struck for the club.

Opponents will be relieved to hear they are not the only ones he has made a fool of this term as apparently one unnamed team-mate had been humiliated in training earlier this week with a particular trick.

There is another telling statistic that Mata can point to. This was his 55th appearance of the season and such a workload can have a negative effect on even the greatest player.

Benitez is not the first one connected to Chelsea to compare him to the legendary figure Gianfranco Zola, but that just ensures he has become even more of a marked man.

Fulham certainly singled him out for special attention and coming just three days after giving his all in a lost cause at Wembley, Mata initially looked fatigued and off the pace.

Every time he got his foot on the ball, he quickly became surrounded by Fulham shirts and each Chelsea attack would break down.

Mata is renowned for his passion of seeing the sights London has to offer and with Craven Cottage being on the Thames, would probably regard it like many as one of his favourite grounds to visit.

However, it was a measure of how Fulham were keeping him in check that he kicked out at Giorgos Karagounis when he had been robbed of the ball once again.

It is no coincidence that when Mata struggles to play, so do Chelsea and he must have been hoping someone would make the difference for a change.

David Luiz did just that with his fierce strike to put Chelsea in front in the 30th minute and help ensure that Mata having an off-night might not prove quite so costly as it has in the past.

It says a lot for his quality though that he can still make a positive impact in a match when he is below par by extending his tally for assists to 30.

Captain John Terry's first headed goal before the break came from a sublime ball to the back post and the former England international made a point of going over to Mata to thank him afterwards.

It was still not a display to earn him many more votes for the end of the season awards, but his growing statistics continue to make for a compelling argument in his favour.