United Briefing: Mata's Emery warning
Juan Mata has warned Manchester United to expect a 'surprise' or two from Villarreal manager Unai Emery in Wednesday's Europa League final.
The United midfielder worked with Emery for three years during his time as a Valencia player more than a decade ago and offered an insight into the methods of Emery, who is set to take charge of a record fifth Europa League final.
“I improved a lot with him,” Mata explained.
“I grew as a player and a person. I was quite young, around 21, 22, 23 years old. He improved me as a player and made me feel important in Valencia, playing every single game.
“He's a methodic manager, hard-working, professional, preparing for every single game like a final. We will have to be ready because I'm sure he'll come up with something different, some kind of surprise from their team, tactically or from set pieces.”
The game in Gdansk, Poland will be Villarreal's first ever major European final. United are favourites with most bookmakers but must match the desire of the Yellow Submarine, who are looking to make history.
“We have to be ready. I think it's the biggest game in their history,” Mata admitted.
“We need to realise that they will give everything and more, so we need to be prepared for that.
“Villarreal is a club that has been doing a lot of good things over the last 15 or 20 years. On and off the pitch, it's a very well structured club.”
Mata has no affiliation with Villarreal but having grown up playing in Spain's national youth sides and for three different La Liga teams, he's well-placed to analyse our opponent's strengths.
“If we talk now about the present, with Unai on the bench, it's a very well-organised team with quality, with players that I know very well,
“ said the 33-year-old. ”It's difficult to play against his teams.
“I played with some of their players. Raul Albiol, centre-back, we played together in Valencia and the national team, [Dani] Parejo, great midfielder, Paco Alcacer, striker and very good finisher.
“They've got a great striker in Gerardo Moreno, they've got quality in the midfield, a very good centre-back in Pau Torres. Sergio Asenjo, one of the goalkeepers, was also my team-mate in the Spanish Under-21s. I know them very well, they've beaten good teams in this season's Europa League, like Arsenal.”
Victory for United in Poland would see Juan lift a 10th major trophy of a glittering senior career and a fourth with United. It would also be his third Europa League victory to add to a Champions League he won while a Chelsea player. Mata still describes occasions such as these as 'gifts', even though he's no stranger to a big event.
“It doesn't matter how many you've been lucky enough to play, it always feels like a gift to be in a European final,” he said.
“They become more special because you realise how difficult it is to get there. There was a moment in my career, especially in the beginning, where everything happened so quickly. I played many important games and finals so quickly, so you don't realise, at the time, how difficult it is until you are in a period where you don't reach into a final for some time.
“Arriving to FA Cup finals, Champions League, Euro championships, World Cups, all in a small period of time, it felt amazing but it wasn't until afterwards I realised how difficult that was. Now again, to be able to be in another final I think we always treasure this moment before the final, going there, training there, feeling that we are going to play a very important game but, of course, it's very important that we go with the mindset of winning because arriving to a final and not winning is not something that you want.
“Hopefully, for many of the guys that we have in the dressing room that have never won a trophy with this club, it's the beginning of many. It's a great feeling to win trophies in football but it's very special to win with this club.”
While Juan's presence is always a positive one on the training ground, it has been in the Europa League rather than the Premier League that the Spaniard has featured most for United since the turn of the year.
And lifting a piece of silverware in that competition would be the perfect way for Juan - and the Reds - to end a season of undoubted progress.
WHAT'S HAPPENING TODAY?
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and two of his players will appear in front of the media at 15:30 BST, for the Europa League final pre-match press conference. As usual, you'll be able to watch a live stream of the event on ManUtd.com and the Official App, but, if you can't make it, then we'll have the breaking stories for you first.
We'll also have an exclusive interview with Daniel James as he looks ahead to his first European final, and you can see how the lads have been preparing when we publish the latest training photos, straight from Gdansk.
Unai Emery and Villarreal will hold their media briefing at 18:00 BST, with training to follow.
There's also a brand-new episode of MUTV Group Chat to look out for, as the lads talk to Spanish football expert and former Red Terry Gibson.
WHAT HAPPENED YESTERDAY?
The build-up to Wednesday's game started to increase, with our match preview and lowdown on how Villarreal fared at the weekend. We also published the Reds' travelling squad, as the players departed for Poland on Monday evening.
Have you seen Sir Alex Ferguson's brilliant interview with Mancunian actor Christopher Eccleston yet? If not, whet your appetite with these features from our legendary ex-boss on Eric Cantona - who celebrated his 55th birthday on Monday - and Paul Gascoigne.