Mata of fact: Juan settling in at the Bridge
Chelsea's playmaker says he is still adapting to playing in England. You wouldn't know it from his performances
Florent Malouda thinks himself worthy of a new Chelsea contract even though he will be 33 when the current one expires in two years' time. Kevin de Bruyne, who played in the same position on the left of midfield for Genk at Stamford Bridge last Wednesday, believes Chelsea are interested in signing him. One problem for both of them and their admirable ambitions: the accomplished Spanish international who watched that game from the home team's substitutes' seats, kept in reserve for today's local derby away to Queens Park Rangers.
Juan Mata arrived from Valencia for a fee of £23.5m towards the end of the last transfer window and made himself first choice in the wide left role within a matter of days. Signed on 24 August, he was pitched into the last quarter of a home game with Norwich City – significantly as replacement for Malouda – the same week and took no time at all to confirm his quality, rounding off a sparkling performance with a goal that future statisticians may look at somewhat disbelievingly, timed as it was at 90+11; there had been an extended period of treatment for the injured Didier Drogba.
Mata looked that day as if he wished the game could have continued for another hour and a half. Frank Lampard, playing just behind him, said: "He's only trained a few days but looked very sharp, with a great first touch and great awareness. I've only heard positive things from everyone I've spoken to about him and in a cameo of 20 minutes he showed us lots to get excited about. So hopefully he can be that little bit of a missing link in giving us that creativity and something a bit different that people have talked about for us."
André Villas-Boas has done some of that talking and Mata is clearly in tune with the new manager's aims: "He said he wanted Chelsea this season to play more attacking football, and that I would be a big part of that," he told the club's website on arrival. "The plan is that I can play on either flank or even in the middle playing in between the lines of midfield and attack. I like to keep the ball and use it well, I am an attacking player."
Developing the theme after the Genk game, he added: "It's a new era with a new coach and he likes offensive football. And when you have round about you players of this quality it makes things very easy."
What tends to make English football less easy for foreign imports is the pace, physical aggression and permissive refereeing, which Mata admits have taken some getting used to – not that you would know it from his performances.
"It's something I've got to get used to. Referees are different in Spain. Here you play more often without fouls being given. But you have to just take it. "
Before that comes his first London derby (he was rested for the Carling Cup tie against Fulham), a first League meeting between the clubs since 1996, and a fixture in which Rangers have a surprisingly good record. There is rarely more than one goal, if any, between the teams, at least since the day QPR supporters still talk of in 1986 when Chelsea were sent home from the Bush on the wrong end of a 6-0 humiliation, little Gary Bannister having scored a hat-trick.
Earlier this month, it was Rangers who lost a west London derby by that margin, at Fulham, when their goalkeeper Paddy Kenny was poor and his makeshift defence worse. Neil Warnock will have reinforcements back today and Chelsea, who have the newly confident Fernando Torres suspended, will find Joey Barton and his cohorts up for the battle. "It's a London team, I'm aware that the stadium is very tight, with the fans right on top of you," Mata said. "The plan is to win to go further up the table." With the Manchester derby over by the time the teams take the field at Loftus Road, a drawat Old Trafford would suit Chel-sea very well.
Mata, 23, will surely be a key figure this afternoon and for some time to come, what-ever potential rivals for his positionmay believe.
QPR v Chelsea is on Sky Sports 1, kick-off 4pm today
London calling: Bruce rejection means Ferdinand can look forward
When Anton Ferdinand was told by the Sunderland manager Steve Bruce he would not be offered a new contract he was devastated, but it enabled the former West Ham defender to return to London and sign for QPR on deadline day.
Ferdinand's three-year stint at Stadium of Light was bumpy at times, no more so than on the eve of the 2010-11 season. The 26-year-old's row with Bruce erupted when he refused to play in Sunderland's final pre-season game in Germany. Ferdinand said: "I'd pulled my hamstring and didn't want to play without training.. There was speculation about me moving to Palermo in Italy and that triggered the argument." Ferdinand said Bruce maybe thought he was feigning injury, "but I would never do that. To be fair to Steve Bruce he didn't hold a grudge and he still gave me a chance to play. I owe him a lot.
"It's upsetting when a manager doesn't want you,' he said. "But I found out about QPR's interest and felt it was the right time to come back to London." Preparing to host Chelsea, he added: "We're underdogs. It will be a big test." But then Ferdinand is used to them.
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