Mata: I like playing up front with Alexis
Juan Mata admits he has relished his different role as a support striker during Manchester United's pre-season matches in the United States.
The experienced Spaniard has started up front with Alexis Sanchez in the two previous games against AC Milan and Liverpool.
It’s a position that Juan could continue to occupy when Jose Mourinho’s Reds conclude Tour 2018, presented by Aon, against European champions Real Madrid in Miami at 01:05 BST on Wednesday (20:05 EDT on Tuesday local time).
"It's a different shape," Mata told MUTV before the squad trained in Miami on Monday. "I think the manager is trying to fit all the first-team squad players into the first XI and I’ve felt okay.
“It’s a system that I think is very difficult to play against and in the last two games I was playing with Alexis up front. I used to play as a striker when I was a kid in the Real Madrid Academy and I like to be in the box, so it’s fine.
“It’s been a few years since I’ve played there but I think once you’ve played in there you pick up the components and you still have them. Now I just try to play that position and try to score.”
‘I AM FEELING FINE’
Mata has played a significant part in all four matches in the US so far, starting three and coming on as a half-time substitute against San Jose Earthquakes.
Juan also got on the scoresheet in our first game, netting the equaliser in the 1-1 draw with Club America in Arizona.
Due to several first-team players being unavailable for various reasons our no.8 has received plenty of game-time, but the 30-year-old is feeling fit and sharp.
“Yes, I’ve had more minutes than in other pre-seasons because of the number of players that are here, but I feel okay,” said Juan. “We are playing five games, with a game tomorrow, but I feel fine. I like to play a lot, I feel better when I play so many games, so hopefully I’ll be 100 per cent ready for Leicester.”
LEICESTER IS THE MOST IMPORTANT GAME
Mata feels a glamour tie with Spanish giants Real Madrid is the perfect way to bring the curtain down on the tour.
“It’s our last day before the final game and we’re in Miami,” explained Juan. “I think it’s been good to be here in the States again. Some days we’ve trained in LA then we’ve played a lot of games. I think we’ve had two good weeks of training here.
“They are a great team with a great squad. They now have a new manager [Julen Lopetegui] who we know very well but the players are pretty much the same. They are one of the biggest clubs in the world. We will be able to play with some of our young players, which will be a good experience for them. I think it’s a perfect end to this US tour.”
After facing Real Madrid, United will return to Europe for a final pre-season fixture against Bayern Munich in Germany before opening the 2018/19 Premier League campaign against Leicester City at Old Trafford on Friday 10 August.
Mata feels the fitness of the squad is a bigger priority than getting good results during pre-season.
“Obviously, results could have been different but I think the most important aspect in pre-season is to get in good physical condition and get ready for the first official game, which is the important one.
“Results are not so important now – the most important thing is to arrive [in the first game] with no injuries and in good physical and mental condition.”
Watch the match against Real Madrid live on MUTV.