Manchester United midfielder Juan Mata is calling on his teammates to pull out all the stops and win the Europa League in order to secure a Champions League berth next season.
United trail Danish side FC Midtjylland 2-1 after the first leg but have a chance tonight at Old Trafford to move into the last 16 in their pursuit of a first Europa League title.
Currently six points behind fourth-placed rivals Manchester City, elimination from European competition would leave the three-times European champions’ qualification for next year’s Champions League in serious doubt.
“We know we have to improve our game,” said Spanish midfielder Juan Mata, likely to be the most senior United player on the Old Trafford pitch.
“My only aim is to win and take another step towards winning this trophy.
“It has a double meaning for us because it would be a first for the club and it also gives us Champions League football next season.”
Coach Louis van Gaal addressed questions regarding United’s growing injury list, and said he will make his selection to ensure the best chance of progression to the next phase.
“We want to start with our strongest team. [Antonio] Valencia and [Adnan] Januzaj are close [to being available]. [Marcos] Rojo can play for 20 minutes maybe, but that is dependent on other injuries.”
Van Gaal was quick to dispel the notion that United should be easily beating teams of Midtjylland’s standing, and also praised their tactical approach, likening it to that of United under his tenure.
“If you look at the data, you will see they have always beaten English opponents.
“You have to analyse every opponent on their own qualities, and I think they have a lot of qualities.
“They have good organisation. They play with diagonal pressing, which I also do with my team. Not many teams are doing that.”
Van Gaal did concede there is much room for improvement in United’s performances, saying the FA Cup victory over Shrewsbury Town on Monday was a positive sign.
“We have to keep the ball better and move the ball quicker – that’s always what we have to do, especially when the opponent is so well organised.”
And Van Gaal, who managed Depay for the Netherlands’ national team, agrees with some of the criticism levelled at the winger.
“He has to adapt to the pace, and to other aspects. It’s also important he adapts to English culture, as it is with any [foreign] player.”
Image courtesy of Jason Cairnduff/Action Images, with thanks.