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Wednesday 7 December 2016

Mata: loss last week makes us focused on Euro glory

Manchester United forward Juan Mata trains ahead of tonight’s Europa League
last-32 second leg clash with Midtjylland: Jan Kruger/Getty Images
Manchester United forward Juan Mata trains ahead of tonight’s Europa League last-32 second leg clash with Midtjylland: Jan Kruger/Getty Images

Juan Mata admits the "sadness and frustration" which followed Manchester United's shock loss to FC Midtjylland has only increased his determination to win the Europa League.

United's struggles this season have been well documented, but few foresaw them coming a cropper in Herning last week.

The Danish champions ran out 2-1 victors in the first leg of their Europa League last-32 encounter, setting up a crunch clash at Old Trafford tonight.

Mata was amongst those to have under-performed against Midtjylland, making him all the more determined to make amends.

"For me as a player, the only thing I have in my mind is to perform as good as I can in every single game," he said. "Obviously tomorrow, the only idea in my mind is to win.

"We know we have to improve our game level, in terms of how we played in Denmark. We should play better and we should adapt to their team better.

PRESSURE

"But as a player it is not about what I say or what I write, it's about how I play and how we play.

"The fans want us to play, to win and make them feel happy with trophies.

"That's my only aim: to win tomorrow, to make another step in this competition and hopefully we can go as far as we can and win the trophy because it has a double meaning for us. It has the meaning of winning for the first time for the club this Europa League and also because it gives the chance to play Champions League."

If Mata and his team-mates fail to overcome Midtjylland, though, the pressure on United and manager Louis van Gaal will go up several notches.

The Dutchman wants his players to "use their tools to ignore the criticism" - something Mata appears adept at doing.

"It's something that you have to handle as a professional footballer and playing for such a club," he said.

"No one knows better than myself how I played a game, and no one knows better than us as players how we felt in the game, if we have done good or bad.

"I'm not really bothered about these things. I was very, very sad and frustrated because of the game, the result and our away fans, but not because of the media criticising."

If United are to overcome the Danes tonight, they will have to do so without a host of star names.

Goalkeeper David de Gea and Chris Smalling were among a string of first-team absentees from United's final training session ahead of the tie.

But Marcos Rojo and Antonio Valencia look set to be involved, having trained on the eve of the match following long injury lay-offs.

Argentina defender Rojo last featured against PSV Eindhoven in the Champions League on November 25, before having to undergo surgery on a dislocated shoulder.

RETURN

Valencia has not played since the goalless draw with Manchester City on October 25 due to an ankle injury.

The duo's return will boost ailing United, who look set to be without De Gea and Smalling after they missing training at the Aon Training Complex.

Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and Will Keane were absent after limping off against Shrewsbury, but Jesse Lingard trained despite his knock in Monday's FA Cup tie.

Meanwhile, Midtjylland are hoping to create "a bit of a miracle" at Old Trafford having last week sent shock waves around the footballing world by beating United.

Midtjylland sporting director Claus Steinlein admits it will be "a bit of a miracle" to reach the last 16 but believes they can achieve it - sentiments head coach Jess Thorup found it hard to disagree with on the eve of the biggest match in the club's short history.

"I think so," he said. "I don't know if the word miracle is, but FC Midtjylland is 17 years old. If we manage to beat them over two games, I don't know if it is a miracle but it'll be big achievement."

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