Juan Mata says his best year in England came under Rafa Benitez at Chelsea, who he still believes will “compete” in the Premier League this season.
Chelsea are down in 16th going into the second international break of the season having lost half of their eight games so far. The Blues are already 10 points off the pace being set by Manchester City at the top of the table, but Mata believes his former club will close the gap on the leaders as the season goes on.
“It’s an unreal situation and I don’t think it will last, Mata told Spanish radio station Onda Cero. “The squad is not one that will finish 16th in the Premier League.
“Things can change quickly. In this league you can make up 15 points in a couple of months. I think Chelsea will get out of it because of the competitive squad they have. With [Eden] Hazard, Oscar, Cesc [Fabregas] they are going to compete this season.”
Mata also spoke out in support of Benitez after the Real Madrid coach was criticised by Karim Benzema and Sergio Ramos following a 1-1 draw with Atletico Madrid at the weekend.
Mata said: “My best year in England was with Rafa. He gave me a lot of confidence. I don’t think he deserves to be called a defensive coach. He gets the team defending when it needs to defend and attacking when it needs to attack. And of all the coaches I have had Koeman sticks in my mind as someone who was there for me at a difficult time. He had a lot of faith in me at Valencia.”
Mata also defended the record of Premier League in the Champions League, adding: “I won the Champions League with Chelsea not so long ago and United have won it fairly recently so there is no huge problem.
“There is no reason why we can’t compete. It will come and hopefully we are going to have a good Champions League this season with United.”
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