Friday 22 September 2017

'Europa our main mission' says Mata

Manchester United’s Juan Mata is looking forward to the challenge of winning the Europa League. Pic: Reuters
Manchester United’s Juan Mata is looking forward to the challenge of winning the Europa League. Pic: Reuters

Juan Mata has revealed his Manchester United team-mates have known "for a while" that the Europa League is their best chance of securing Champions League football.

The Spaniard helped United book their place in the last eight with a goal in the 1-0 win over Rostov on Thursday night. The Reds will now face Belgian side Anderlecht in the quarter-finals next month after yesterday's draw in Nyon, Switzerland.

With 12 games to go in the Premier League, including tomorrow's visit to struggling Middlesbrough, Mata has not given up hope of finishing in the top four. But he accepts the Europa League is still their best bet of earning a place in Europe's top club competition next season.

He said: "It became a while ago very important for us. 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."

And the Spaniard is hopeful it will end with more work for the club's museum curators. Mata scored his 10th goal of the season against Rostov.

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Still in March, it matched his tally for the last two campaigns. One more will make it his most productive season since arriving from Chelsea in 2014.

He added: "I think it's a good number of goals. 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 with some more goals before the end of the season. Obviously it was a disappointment on Monday that we went out of the FA Cup - it could have been another trophy in a season where we have already won two trophies."

Meanwhile, Anderlecht president Roger Vanden Stock described the United tie as "the hardest possible draw for us" but believes his side can pull off an upset.

He said: "You never know, we didn't think we would beat Zenit either.

"It's a team at Champions League level with a lot of qualities. If we were to qualify, I would light a few candles."

Manager Herman van Holsbeeck echoed the president's thoughts and has his own concerns about a clash between European and domestic priorities.

"This is a very difficult draw," he said. "The players' programme will be a challenging one, especially because we play at home first and then away.

"Immediately after the match in England on Thursday, the top match against Club Brugge will follow.

"But it is of course a very nice fixture. A unique opportunity for our players to take on such a team and show themselves in Europe."

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