The Spanish playmaker's £37.1m sale to Manchester United failed to raise voices of dissent against Stoke at Stamford Bridge
If, at any point over the past two seasons, Juan Mata had been sold to Manchester United, it is safe to say there would have been uproar among Chelsea supporters. Imagine if Rafael Benítez, the former stop-gap manager, had presided over the deal. Mutiny would not have covered it.
And yet, as Chelsea entered the post-Mata era, following Friday's confirmation of his £37.1m move to Old Trafford, with the most comprehensive of 1-0 FA Cup victories over Stoke City at Stamford Bridge, there was barely a flicker.
There was one message of thanks to Mata scrawled on a small white sign held aloft by a supporter and that, in terms of acknowledgment of the sale, was that. There was no dissent, no protest and, if that reflected in part how Mata's fortunes have plummeted this season, it also reinforced where the fans' faith has come to lie.
José Mourinho said afterwards that it was not him but the club who sanctioned the deal and, moreover, he intimated that they were powerless to resist once the scale of the United offer was clear and Mata had made plain his desire to move. Mourinho was kidding nobody. If he did not want to lose the Spanish No10, he would not have lost him.
Mata, the player of the year in his two full Chelsea seasons and the one-time king of Stamford Bridge, is gone but the king endures. There has been a trend to laud particular players with song in the minute of the match that corresponds to their shirt number but, in minute 10 here, there was only a chant from the Matthew Harding Stand for Mourinho. The timing was entirely coincidental but it seemed telling.
Mourinho is reshaping this squad in his image, with Mata and Kevin De Bruyne out – the latter to Wolfsburg – and Michael Essien going to Milan, and Nemanja Matic and Mohamed Salah arriving from Benfica and Basel respectively. Mata and De Bruyne fetched good money but they were dispensable and Essien is at the end of the line. Matic offers greater balance in midfield while Mourinho sees the possibility to mould Salah into an incisive but disciplined attacking midfielder.
The Matic transfer stands as the perfect illustration of Mourinho's control. It is difficult to imagine too many clubs being happy to take a player for £20.75m that they shipped out three years previously in a part-exchange, when he was valued at £3m. That is some mark-up and it has to raise questions about Chelsea's long-term planning.
How did the executives justify the change in thinking on the imposing midfielder to the owner, Roman Abramovich? Were there red faces? It did not matter. Mourinho wanted him and other concerns were overridden. Mourinho, of course, was not the manager who sold Matic to Benfica, as part of the David Luiz transfer. So he will not hear accusations about any perceived lack of joined-up thinking.
Matic was very good here, on his full Chelsea debut. In his first spell at the club he had made appearances off the bench in 4-0, 5-0 and 8-0 wins and he came on the previous Sunday in the 3-1 victory over Manchester United.
Starting alongside Frank Lampard in front of the back four, Matic caught the eye at the outset although, given his size, it was difficult to miss him. He won the ball and he moved it sharply, looking to drive his team forward rather than take the safe, square option. His confidence was striking; his touch sometimes silky but always assured.
Matic was once the bait for David Luiz; now he is the big fish. Although both players started here – David Luiz alongside Gary Cahill at centre-half – Matic could replace the Brazilian in Mourinho's strongest team. The manager seems to prefer John Terry with Cahill in central defence. Terry has played every minute in the Premier League this season.
The Chelsea crowd enjoyed themselves, largely because they got to watch Eden Hazard. The Belgian winger was electric and it was no exaggeration to say he sparked danger every time he received the ball. With Oscar and André Schürrle also to the fore, all power and quick breaks, there was ample evidence as to why Mata is now a former Chelsea attacking-midfielder.
Mourinho tried to tug on the heart-strings when he articulated his sadness at the inability to make Mata happy. "I gave him nothing and I'm sorry for that," Mourinho said. "But I went in one direction."
Mata is the collateral damage. It is the sign of a strong club that the manager can take difficult decisions and hardly anyone complains.