Benitez sees Chelsea legend Zola in Mata

The interim manager says that the Spanish attacking midfielder reminds him of the old Stamford Bridge hero and hails him as a candidate to be crowned Player of the Year
Chelsea boss Rafa Benitez believes the Blues have a present-day equivalent of iconic forward Gianfranco Zola in the form of Juan Mata.

The interim boss sees shades of the Stamford Bridge legend in the attacking midfielder's intelligent play behind the main forward and feels that his 18 goals and 29 assists should see him considered as a Player of the Year candidate.

"If you look over the whole season and analyse his performances, he should be considered for sure," Benitez told the press of Mata. "He has played two games every week for months and he's been good. He is a very good professional and his numbers are fantastic.

13/2 Juan Mata is 13/2 with Coral to score the first goal in Fulham v Chelsea on Wednesday
"Juan reminds me of Gianfranco Zola when he was at Chelsea. He has the same game intelligence, which is the key, playing between the lines, in front of the centre-backs.

"Like Zola, he is not too big but has the intelligence to get into the box. He is very clever, he finds space and has quality and he has the vision as well. It's not easy to have all this. That's the reason these players are more expensive - it's more difficult to find them."

Another Chelsea hero, Frank Lampard, is three goals away from becoming the club's all-time record goalscorer and Benitez is hopeful that the midfielder can reach the milestone.

"I would like to see Frank breaking the record, for sure," he enthused.

"If I pick him, it's because he's a good player. I'm sure he will score goals. If he can score more than two, he'll break the record, he'll be happy and we will be too. I think he will do it but the main thing is the team.

"At this stage, I don't waste time trying to do the maths about what we will need for the top four, although I think it will go to the last game, but when you talk about a winning mentality, you talk about the head. It's not just physical qualities.

"At the end of the season it's more important to be strong mentally and approach each game believing you can win. You have to put everything together."