Mata hopes to win a third Europa League trophy
For Juan Mata, winning the Europa League with United in 2017 was a special moment.
The Spanish playmaker started the final at the Friends Arena in Stockholm as goals from Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan ensured we beat Ajax and claimed the only piece of silverware missing from the Old Trafford trophy cabinet.
Our victory came four years after Mata had first experienced success in the competition with former club Chelsea and he’s eager for more this time around.
“It was the first time the club won this tournament and it was great to beat an Ajax side, who went on to be a great team in the following years,” said Mata, in an interview with UEFA.
“Whenever you win a European competition, it’s special. I hope I can win it for a third time.”
The Reds have been drawn in Group L, alongside AZ Alkmaar, Astana and Partizan Belgrade, and Mata believes Europe could be the perfect stage for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his side to showcase their potential.
“[Ole’s] philosophy comes from his experience as a player here. He played under Sir Alex Ferguson, possibly the greatest manager in history: a coach who could move with the times and continue to win, despite numerous changes to his squads,” added the 31-year-old.
“I think that’s what Ole is trying to achieve. He’s trying to turn United into the side they once were: an attacking team who always look to score; a team that wins trophies.
“Let’s hope that proves to be the case.”
The Spaniard is a veteran of continental competition, having first appeared in the old UEFA Cup with Valencia in 2008/09.
He reached the quarter-finals of the tournament the following season, when it was rebranded as the Europa League, and Mata recalls that period fondly, suggesting it allowed him to grow up as a footballer.
“In the dressing room, it was fantastic. It was a mix of experienced players along with key players, like [David] Villa and [David] Silva, and then there were young players like myself.
“The truth is that I only have appreciative and positive things to say about Valencia, because it was truly one of the most important moments in my career.”
Now, Mata is one of the most experienced faces at United and our current crop of young players will be looking to him to provide a similar example over the coming campaign.
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