Sport

Mata: Chelsea a ‘big rival for us’

Juan Mata was the special guest on the Pitch to Post podcast and in a wide-ranging interview explained how Man Utd got back on track after their 6-1 thrashing by Tottenham, why Saturday’s clash with Chelsea is so important, and how Marcus Rashford’s off-field work has made him proud.

The talented Spanish midfielder returned to the United starting XI for last Saturday’s trip to Newcastle and was instrumental in their 4-1 win, before watching from the bench as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side earned an impressive victory at Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday night.

The back-to-back wins were a standout response to United’s humbling at home to Spurs before the international break, and Mata, reflecting on an encouraging week, said the squad were determined to put right that result as soon as they could.

“To be honest it was exactly what we needed after the defeat at home,” Mata told the Pitch to Post podcast after training at Carrington.

“You want the next game to come quickly but unfortunately there was the international break, so we prepared really well, we trained hard over that week and then we got two very good performances, first at Newcastle in the Premier League to get important three points and secondly in Paris which was a very good team performance against a top side.

“So we’re very happy with the week – but we want to keep this momentum going and of course we know that we have a very important and difficult couple of weeks ahead with important rivals in our next games. So we will try to perform at the same level and try to get as many points as possible.”

From now to the next international break, United will face Chelsea, Arsenal, and Everton in the Premier League, with Champions League group games against RB Leipzig and Istanbul Basaksehir in between. It’s a testing run of games but Mata says United are determined to arrive at the next international break in a strong position.

To do that they will need to back up their strong week with another good performance against Chelsea on Saturday evening at Old Trafford.

Mata knows the visiting manager well. “You could feel from the first day that I arrived to Chelsea’s dressing room that he was a very intelligent man, that he knew a lot about football and he understood the game really well as a player,” the midfielder says of his former team-mate Lampard. “You could imagine that he would be a very good manager, like he’s showing now.”

But Mata also knows Lampard’s players have the potential to cause United problems.

“Of course we are aware of their dangers, as we know they have signed many very good and important players. Attacking-wise, defending-wise they’ve got a great squad. So we know what they’re capable of and we need to be ready for that.

“But also we need to think we’re playing at home and if we play our football hopefully we’ll have chances and create scoring opportunities to get the three points. And of course, they’re a big rival for us because they’re challenging for what we’re challenging. A victory against them will be important, although we know it’s difficult.”

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