Juan Mata says Manchester United are determined to win the Europa League in order to safeguard their return to the Champions League next season.
The Spain international scored the only goal of the game as Jose Mourinho’s side beat Rostov 1-0 at Old Trafford on Thursday to secure a 2-1 aggregate win in their last-16 tie.
United are locked in a tough battle to finish in the Premier League’s top four and sit six points adrift of fourth-place Liverpool – albeit with two games in hand – with only 12 games left to play this season.
And although he refuses to give up on a strong finish in the top flight, Mata admits that his side are taking the Europa League “very seriously” as they wait to discover their quarter-final opponents in Friday’s draw.
“It became very important for us a while ago,” he said. “I still think that we have the chance to get to the Champions League through the Premier League, I still believe that we can win a lot of games and get into the third or fourth positions.
“But it’s another chance for us, and we take it very seriously and it’s really important in the way that obviously it could be one more trophy and it means that we will play Champions League.
“Obviously it was a disappointment on Monday that we went out of the FA Cup [against Chelsea]. It could have been another trophy in a season that we already won two trophies [the EFL Cup and Community Shield].
“But we need to focus on where we are and we’re in the Premier League, obviously not for the championship but for at least getting the third or fourth position, and trying to win this competition which would be good for the museum in the stadium and for us to play in the Champions League next season.”
— UEFA Europa League (@EuropaLeague) March 16, 2017
United travel to Middlesbrough on Sunday as a packed fixture list begins to bit, however Mata refuses to consider fighting for anything less than a victory following their disappointment of their 1-1 draw with Bournemouth last week.
“It’s very important, especially after the draw against Bournemouth at Old Trafford,” he said. “We know that we need to add points three after three in the Premier League because our rivals are winning games so we have to win games, and hopefully we can win on Sunday.
“It’s going to be tough. They changed manager, as you know. Probably for them it is a new start and everyone is going to be really, really motivated so we’re going to have to deal with that.”
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