In 2013 UEFA Super Cup Final between Chelsea and Bayern Munich, under manager Jose Mourinho, midfielder Juan Mata was benched for the full length of the game. The Spaniard, who remained out of favour with the Portuguese manager for most of his time at Chelsea, watched from the sidelines as his side failed to clinch the trophy. A last-minute goal by Javi Martinez in extra time took the game to penalties, where the Blues lost 5-4 due to a miss by Romelu Lukaku.
It was the second time in two years that Mata had missed out on winning the Super Cup. In 2012, he started the Super Cup fixture for Chelsea against Atletico Madrid, and saw his side beaten convincingly by the Spanish team, owing to a brilliant hat-trick by Radamel Falcao. After a tough start to the season under Mourinho in 2013, Mata soon packed his bags and came to Old Trafford.
As Mourinho’s Manchester United gets ready to take on Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid in UEFA Super Cup clash on Tuesday, the destiny has brought the two back together on the same path. For the Spanish midfielder, it will be his third attempt, (possibly final), to add another trophy to his cabinet- the one which has always eluded him.
“I’ve been lucky to play two [Super Cup finals] and I’ve been unlucky to lose two,” the 29-year old said in a recent interview. He went on to add that the task at hand against Madrid is not going to be an easy one. “The Super Cup is in our minds and it is obviously against Real Madrid. We are looking forward to it, looking forward to hopefully adding another trophy to the history of the club and it is going to be difficult but we will try our best,” Mata said.
Unfortunately, for Mata, his selection in the team remains doubtful this time around as well and it is likely Mourinho will start him from the bench. Paul Pogba (or Agent P, as he is known these days) is likely to get a start at No.10 position with Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera behind him. Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Anthony Marital and Jesse Lingard might be preferable choices at winger positions for the Red Devils’ manager over Mata, owing to a knee injury the versatile midfielder suffered during the first pre-season game against LA Galaxy, which kept him out of friendly fixtures against Madrid and Barcelona last month.
Mata’s return on the field in United’s last pre-season game against Sampadoria in which he chipped in with the winning goal, has boosted his confidence and he believes he will be fit to play against Madrid in the all important season-opener. “I had a little problem but I’m happy to be back and to get a run out ahead of next week,” Mata said in a recent interview.
But employing a potentially “unfit” player in the first team is not a gamble the Portuguese manager is likely to take against the Champions League winners. It might end up costing him the match, or worse, aggravate Mata’s injuries before the start of the season. There has been a huge turnaround in relations between the two since Mourinho’s arrival to Old Trafford last year, and in spite of early rumours, Mata has become an integral part of the manager’s team set up.
Last year, Mata featured in 30 games for Manchester United in all tournaments, in which he scored 8 goals and 4 assists. The team’s performance, in the final few months of the season, saw a decline, after Mata suffered an injury that kept him out for months. Mourinho will not want to risk another injury to his side, and hence, may restrain from giving a first-team start to Mata.
But, whether the miniature midfielder becomes a part of the team set-up or not, Mata would want his team to succeed in capturing the season-opening trophy and end his UEFA Super Cup curse. And so will Mourinho. In an interview last month, Mata said the manager has been planning for a month on how to defeat Zidane’s side. In another interview, Mourinho himself said, “I’ve never contested the UEFA Super Cup as the strongest team. It’s the same story this time: I’m taking Manchester United to play against Real Madrid, the Champions League winners. Hopefully this time we can do it.”