Juan Mata on his thirst for goals and why the Europa League is ‘very important’ to Man United

Juan Mata said the prospect of being substituted in Manchester United’s Europa League victory against Rostov on Thursday spurred him on to score the game’s only goal.

Juan Mata, left, scored the only goal of the Europa League last 16 second leg against Rostov on Thursday to send Manchester United through to the quarter-finals. Ross Kinnaird / Getty Images
Powered by automated translation

MANCHESTER // Juan Mata said the prospect of being substituted in Manchester United’s Europa League victory against Rostov on Thursday spurred him on to score the game’s only goal.

“That gave me energy to score,” said the Spaniard, who started and finished the best move of a heavy night for a fatigued United as they struggled to overcome the Russian side.

Mata intercepted a pass in his own half in the 70th minute and found Zlatan Ibrahimovic with a pass while continuing his run.

Ibrahimovic moved the ball right to Henrikh Mkhitaryan before continuing towards the box as United aimed to keep a 100 per cent record of home wins in the Europa League this season.

The Armenian saw the Swede’s run and pushed a low cross towards him. Ibrahimovic flicked the ball with his right foot towards Mata, who scored with his left.

“I try to read where the ball is going to go in the box,” Mata, 28, said. “We need to attack the ball because sometimes we don’t finish the chances and we don’t finish the nice crosses that Daley (Blind) or Antonio (Valencia) put in.

“Today, I saw the ball coming, I thought Ibra could touch the ball, he did it and I scored.”

__________________________________

Read more

■ Jose Mourinho: 'I would never have sold Di Maria — no chance'

■ Diego Forlan column: In defence of Paul Pogba

■ Premier League predictions: Man United win at Middlesbrough

__________________________________

Mata believes Ibrahimovic’s assist was an attempt on goal, but the victory sent United’s into Friday’s Europa League quarter-final draw in Switzerland.

“It (the Europa League) became (important) a while ago, very important for us,” Mata said. “I still think we have the chance to get to the Champions League through the Premier League.

“I still think we can win a lot of games and get into the third or fourth positions. But it’s another chance for us and we will take it very seriously.

“It’s very important — it could be one more trophy and it means we play Champions League.”

It was Mata’s 10th goal of the season — the second highest tally at United after Ibrahimovic’s 26.

“I think it’s a good number of goals,” Mata said. “It’s March and there are still a lot of games to go and hopefully I can add many more.

“I have scored 10 and 10 in the last seasons so I’m already on that number and hopefully I can surpass it before the end of the season.”

The former Real Madrid, Valencia and Chelsea player does not class himself as a striker.

“I consider myself a midfielder or an attacking midfielder,” Mata said. “Goals have always been a big part of my game. It’s one of the things I can do to help my teammates — goals, assists and offensive work. Obviously I have to defend as well and run for the others, but goals have always been a big part of my game.”

Mata has been one of Mourinho’s most effective players this season and is a man used to playing 50 games a season.

“I consider myself the same player with more or less the same qualities as I always had,” he said. “It’s always about reaching your confidence level and physically being ready for every game.

“I’m happy with that, and after that trying to help my teammates. This season, I’m scoring goals and I’m happy with that but obviously I want more.”

The 2-1 aggregate win was vital for United in a week where they were eliminated from the FA Cup, losing 1-0 to Chelsea on Monday in the quarter-finals.

“Obviously it was a disappointment on Monday that we went out — it could have been another trophy in a season where we have already won two,” Mata said. “But we need to focus on what we are in.

“We are in the Premier League — obviously not playing for the championship — but playing for the third or fourth position, and trying to win the Europa League.

“It will be good for the museum in the stadium and for us to play Champions League next season.”

Follow us on Twitter @NatSportUAE

Like us on Facebook at facebook.com/TheNationalSport