Wednesday night sees what could well be the decisive match in the Premier League’s fascinating race for the Champions League spots. Tottenham finished two places above Chelsea last season but had to make do with Europa League football after the Blues’ Champions League triumph in Munich.
This season the two have been locked in a three-way race with Arsenal to fill the last two Champions League places and Wednesday’s match at Stamford Bridge could be the key game in that race. Two players who have both had excellent seasons for their respective clubs, Juan Mata and Gareth Bale will be undoubtedly instrumental to any outcome. The latter completed a clean sweep of awards recently but then it could be argued that the Spaniard will be just as important.
Both players have featured in a similar number of games (Bale has clocked up around 160 minutes more) so comparing them is easy in that regard. What makes it slightly harder is that for the first part of the season and indeed in some games since Bale was employed as an out-and-out winger. Recently he has found himself in more of a central role, similar to that of Mata for Chelsea and unquestionably two of the key features of a player in that position’s responsibilities are the ability to create and score.
If we start with passing we can see that Mata (1706) plays considerably more open play passes than Bale (994) with a higher completion ratio of 86% in comparison to 78%. This can be explained by the fact that Mata is the key playmaker in his side. It is often said that anything good Chelsea do will have come through Mata and the little Spaniard is enjoying an even more profitable season. Bale’s importance to Tottenham shouldn’t be underestimated but he is more of an impact player and his passing really isn’t in the same league as Mata’s.
You can see that the Chelsea number 10 has more of an impact in terms of passing in the final third with 862 passes in the final third in comparison to Bale’s 398. This can be partly put down to the way Chelsea and Tottenham play in terms of their build up play and also the way in which Mata and Bale play their football. Clearly both are brilliant dribblers of the ball but Bale is far more direct and will look to run at defenders whereas Mata will normally look to slip a pass to a teammate.
Moving on to creativity and we can see that whilst Bale is more direct and will dribble more regularly it is Mata that has laid on more assists for his teammates. Bale has made over twice the amount of dribbles than Mata and whilst you can argue that it is partly because Bale played some part of the season out wide the Welshman is much more of an impact player. When Bale is at his most dangerous is when he is on full motor, charging at defenders because he is a nightmare for even the most experienced defender when he’s in that mood.
By comparison Mata is a player that prefers to receive the ball and move it on either short or a defence splitting ball that can lead to a goal. This can be shown by the fact that Mata has created more chances than Bale and provided more assists. As wonderful a season as Gareth Bale has had he has received a fair amount of criticism for his lack of assists. Of course his goals are vitally important to Spurs but you would have thought a player of Bale’s calibre would have contributed more than four assists.
Comparing goals, rather unsurprisingly is a one way street with Bale’s 20 goals dwarfing the 11 of Mata. Bale (118) also takes far more shots than Mata (41) and there is a very good reason for that. In Chelsea’s team Mata is the creator-in-chief and he is also a very unselfish player. He will regularly look for the pass to a teammate as opposed to taking the shot on himself. Bale, as humble as he may possibly be, will surely be aware that he is Spurs’ main, maybe only goal threat. Therefore he will have been told by André Villas-Boas that he has a license to shoot at will because AVB will know that Bale holds the key to his side’s success. This can be shown by Bale’s dramatic winner against Southampton and that he has scored three in his last three for Spurs. It is worth noting that Mata does have a better chance conversion figure than Bale but that isn’t surprising given that Bale isn’t as selective with his shots as Mata is.
Regardless of the result on Wednesday night you can be sure that one of these two will have some say in proceedings. Many in the blue part of London believe that Bale was an unworthy choice for player of the season and given that his season didn’t really get going from the start you can understand their frustrations. Having said that Bale’s tremendous goal scoring record, the manner of his goals and the importance of his goals suggest that his season (even if it started late) has been extremely noteworthy. Both are integral parts of their teams and both Chelsea and Tottenham look considerably weaker without their key players. It should be an interesting match-up and it will be key to AVB and Rafa Benitez that they stifle their opposite number’s chief threat effectively, or risk the consequences.
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