Mata celebrates landmark strike

Mata
Mata has 13 goals already this season and is hungry for more. Photo: PA

Juan Mata celebrated a landmark game and goal in his Chelsea career before declaring he was hungry for even more.

Yesterday's 1-0 win at Norwich was Spain forward Mata's 50th appearance in the Barclays Premier League and came less than a season and a half after he joined the Blues.

Carrow Road also witnessed his 13th goal in all competitions this term, already bettering his tally from the whole of the last campaign.

Rarely has a foreign player made such a seamless adjustment to English football as former Valencia star Mata, who has enjoyed the unwavering confidence of all three Chelsea managers he has played under.

Last season, he featured in 34 of Chelsea's 38 league games, while this term he has played a part in 16 of 18.

But despite his 50 matches being the most of any outfield player at the club over the same period, Mata had no intention of allowing his team-mates to catch him up.

"I want to play more, I want to keep playing, keep training, keep enjoying this club and this Premier League," he told Chelsea TV.

Modestly describing his goals tally as "not bad", he added: "I'm very happy with how it's going - the season - for me and for the team and I just have to keep working."

When Mata works, almost invariably so do Chelsea.

His six goals in eight games have co-incided with the club's revival under interim boss Rafael Benitez.

Mata's dip in form before that also tallied with the Chelsea slump that saw Roberto Di Matteo sacked.

Indeed, the club were becoming too reliant on Mata's goals and assists under Di Matteo and it is crucial they do not fall into the same trap again.

Benitez appears to recognise the need to spread the load around the team, his decision to move David Luiz from defence into midfield once again proving inspired yesterday.

Mata said of the Brazilian's transformation: "I'm not surprised.

"I know that he's a very, very good player, top player.

"He's able to play in different positions, at centre-back, in midfield.

"He's a complete football player."

Mata stressed the importance of Chelsea keeping a clean sheet yesterday in what was only their second 1-0 win of the season.

"Our four defenders were really good," he said.

"All the team played like a compact team, like Rafa wanted."

He added of his goal: "The most important thing is that it was the winning goal."

That winner saw Chelsea close to within four points of second-placed Manchester City with a game in hand, while remaining 11 behind runaway leaders Manchester United.

Mata said: "These three points gave to us a lot of confidence to be closer to the Manchester clubs."

Norwich boss Chris Hughton was also upbeat after his side reached the halfway point of the season comfortably in midtable, 10 points clear of danger.

Two straight defeats have done little damage following a 10-game unbeaten run that left the Canaries on 25 points.

Hughton said: "If you had offered that to me at the start of the season then certainly I would have taken it.

"You only have to look at this Barclays Premier League week in, week out and see some of the results and I think that emphasises the good run we went on."

Hughton refused to set a points target for his side but challenged them to avoid starting the second half of the season as they began the first.

"We started slowly and then went on a good run," he said.

"We have a bit of momentum at the moment and we know what we have to do to get the points we need.

"It is a big ask because of the quality of this division and the big teams and good players you are up against.

"But I think we know what to do to get the points and we have got to replicate more of that in the second half of the season."

Faltering champions City are up next and Hughton added: "What we have to do is make sure we are right in it on Saturday.

"If we are right in it, it gives us a chance."