Juan Mata's masterclass hammers home Chelsea's title credentials

• Spaniard's double slays Tottenham and delights Di Matteo
• Mata the orchestrator of Chelsea's new attacking style
Watch all the weekend Premier League highlights (UK only)

Juan Mata is the player who seemingly has it all. The 24-year-old can already look back on being a world and European champion with Spain and a Champions League winner with Chelsea and it is an understatement that even he might be proud of to suggest that he has travelled a long way in a breathlessly short time. It is where he intends to go next that is rich with possibility.

Chelsea no longer feel like mere dark horses for the Premier League title. Their pre-season status was based on them having lagged 25 points off the pace last time out and the requirement to assimilate a fistful of new signings. But the speed at which Roberto Di Matteo's team have found their stride has been startling.

The away win over Arsenal at the end of last month served notice of their ambition and this shoot-out success on their return to north London brought confirmation. Chelsea were value for the margin of the victory and their swashbuckling performance, inspired by Mata and his creative midfield colleagues, did more than check Tottenham Hotspur's momentum and deny André Villas-Boas the result that he craved against his former employers.

Mata was asked afterwards whether Chelsea could win the title and the notion did not feel outlandish. It is not only Chelsea's numbers so far that are big and bold; 22 points from an available 24 and four clear of the Manchester clubs at the top of the table. It has been the change in mentality that has given rise to optimism and excitement. "What has changed is our attitude," Di Matteo said. "We go away and play with the same attitude that we have at home, so we take the initiative. We don't just give it to the opposition. We want to impose ourselves. Who knows where this is going to take us?"

No one at Chelsea will get carried away, least of all Di Matteo, while Mata stressed that it was "still early" and the next two months would be "the most important moments". It is remembered somewhat bleakly how the club's previous two seasons started with similarly impressive results only for form to fade and the managers to pay. Carlo Ancelotti was sacked at the end of 2010-11 while Villas-Boas was dismissed in March.

The reasons to be cheerful, though, felt plentiful on Saturday as Chelsea's players took the acclaim of the travelling support. There had been no panic when Tottenham raised the intensity at the start of the second half to fight back for 2-1; they simply remained composed and fashioned their own revival. "It was nice to see that we kept believing in our game plan," said Di Matteo, who also mentioned the come-from-behind 4-2 home win over Reading in August.

Chelsea's creative depth, after the summer spend, is impressive; Frank Lampard, Daniel Sturridge and Victor Moses were only substitutes at White Hart Lane while Di Matteo praised the focus that the players had shown to blot out the distraction of the John Terry racism controversy.

The captain was missed as he served part one of his four-match domestic ban; Chelsea were not entirely convincing in defence and they will welcome him back for the Champions League tie at Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday. Yet they did more than enough to take the points because of the sheer exuberance of their attacking game.

Mata, who played at Euro 2012 and the Olympic Games, has benefited from a rest from international football, even if it stretched a little longer than he would have wanted. The merits of him sitting out the September internationals appeared to be accepted by all parties but Vicente Del Bosque, the Spain manager, omitted him from the fixtures this month. Del Bosque seemed to be making a statement; he would choose when Mata turned up.

The unassuming Mata has let his game to do the talking. His clinical finishes against Tottenham brought him to six goals in five appearances for Chelsea and the seamless manner by which he interchanged with the summer signings Eden Hazard and Oscar in the line behind Fernando Torres overwhelmed Tottenham. Ramires, in a deeper midfield role, also excelled. The Chelsea owner, Roman Abramovich, is as close as he might ever be to the target of fantasy football.

"We are playing more with the ball [this season] and I think it's more enjoyable for me and the team," said Mata, who set up the final goal for Sturridge and feels as good as he has done in London. "If you can win and also play really well, it is the perfect way."

Tottenham departed shell-shocked, particularly the hapless defenders William Gallas and Kyle Walker. Aaron Lennon and Jermain Defoe were sharp but Villas-Boas's team lacked cohesion and balance. They will have to absorb a body blow. Chelsea, ahead of Sunday's visit of Manchester United, have the licence to dream.

Man of the match Juan Mata (Chelsea)

comments powered by Disqus