Mata targets a 'perfect' start against Chelsea
Juan Mata could not help but smile when the 2019/20 Premier League fixtures were released earlier this summer, pitting Manchester United against his old club Chelsea on the opening weekend.
Following the conclusion of an excellent pre-season tour in which six wins were earned, with one coming via penalties, there is a growing confidence that United can make a positive start in the Premier League this term.
A victory against Chelsea, cheered on by 76,000 fans at Old Trafford, would provide a boost to everybody associated with the club, both on and off the pitch.
“It would be the perfect way to start, to have a good pre-season, with everybody ready and without injuries, and then win the first game of the season against Chelsea at home,” Juan told us. “If we can win that game then it’d be the perfect start and the fans can feel the excitement of a new season.”
Sunday’s match is also significant for Mata because it pits him against new Chelsea manager Frank Lampard, who was of course his team-mate during a two-and-a-half year spell at Stamford Bridge.
They won three major trophies together during that time - the FA Cup, Champions League and Europa League – and Juan hopes that his friend will enjoy more success as the Blues boss. However, his well wishes do not include this weekend’s anticipated showdown in M16.
“It will be a difficult challenge in the first game of the season, playing against Chelsea, who have a new project, a new manager, some changes in the squad, so it will be nice to start like that. I remember we have had some difficult opponents in other seasons, when we played Tottenham and other big clubs, so at the end of the day you have to play against everyone.”
The prospect of winning major trophies at Old Trafford and parading them on the streets of his beloved Manchester is one of the main reasons Juan cites for extending his deal. The experience of running out at Old Trafford - and particularly on the opening day - is also an influential factor.
“This was another reason for me to renew the contract,” Mata revealed. “To play every two weeks or 10 days at Old Trafford is just an unbelievable feeling.
“In a football players' career, to be able to say that you have played for a club like Manchester United for many years makes me feel very proud. There are many reasons why I signed a new contract, but playing and wearing that shirt at Old Trafford is probably the biggest of them.”
The Video Assistant Referee (VAR) has been introduced to the Premier League this season and, while the system will change how players react to decisions, Mata is confident it is a positive change.
“It will change the game a lot,” he said. “We need to be ready to carry on the play, even if the linesman puts the flag up as it can be a goal even if you stop. For a striker, you have to always finish now - it doesn't matter if the referee whistles or if the linesman puts the flag up, you have to finish and for the defenders you have to keep defending. It also changes the way you defend set-pieces.
“We will discuss it as it will change a lot of the game and how you prepare. I think it is good, I think it is a positive thing from football. We have personally had one positive and one negative experience with it, but I think it is fair. As long as you make football fairer, then it is better. But, I think they have to do it a bit quicker because if not it kills the emotion of the game a little bit, but I think it works.”
United begin the new Premier League season against Chelsea at Old Trafford on Sunday, with kick-off at 16:30 BST. Guarantee your seat to this game with a Matchday VIP Experience.