Juan Mata’s sublime free-kick against Newcastle United, which kickstarted the thrilling comeback at Old Trafford, was his seventh in Manchester United colours since arriving from Chelsea in 2014.
Earlier this week, we ran a poll in our official app asking fans to choose their favourite from Mata’s splendid free-kick goals for the Reds – ranging from his first one away to Newcastle in 2013/14, an exquisite effort against Watford in 2015/16 and his stunning strike away at Leicester City last season.
As always, you voted in your thousands, with 42 per cent going for his most recent effort in the Reds’ 3-2 victory over Newcastle.
MUTV’s Mark Sullivan presented the results to Juan but while the Spaniard wasn’t surprised by the outcome, he opted for a different set-piece strike as his favourite - a fine finish against Southampton at St Mary’s, in a 1-1 draw on the final day of the 2013/14 season.
“Well, I can see that they [the fans] voted that my best free-kick was the latest one [against Newcastle] which shows that it’s very recent and it was an important goal for the comeback,” said Juan as he pored over the poll results on a tablet.
“I think a lot of fans will remember that last 20-25 minutes because we looked very strong, very offensive and we created a lot of chances. I will personally choose Southampton away in 2013/14 – I think the technique was good.
“Watford at home – I remember I was wearing the [captain’s] armband that day and we won 1-0 with that free-kick which went in at the goalkeeper’s post. Newcastle away [was] my first one with United – it was also a nice one but I think technique-wise, Southampton away would be the best.”
After the Reds trailed 2-0 against Newcastle inside the first 10 minutes, Juan’s delightful free-kick from 20 yards curled past Martin Dubravka to ignite an incredible comeback in the final 20 minutes, as Jose Mourinho’s men fought back to win for the first time in five games.
Mata’s precise effort in the match last Saturday evening came after he had spent Friday perfecting his technique on the training ground – proving that practice does indeed make perfect.
“It doesn’t always work like that!” he said.
“The day before the game, we were practising free-kicks and I took three, I scored the three of them and then I stopped and left. I thought, 'If I have a free-kick tomorrow, maybe I'll still have the touch in my foot and luckily I did.
“With set-pieces, free-kicks and things like that, practice is very important because you perfect your technique and then you have a better feeling of the ball, how you have to hit it and all of these things. Obviously it’s very different in a game from how it is in training, but I think that practice always helps for sure.”
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