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Europa League victory was vital for United: Mata

By Simon Peach

Published 01/10/2016

Looking up: Juan Mata
Looking up: Juan Mata

Manchester United's Europa League victory over Zorya Luhansk is unlikely to live long in the memory, but Juan Mata believes it was "key" as Jose Mourinho's side continue their recovery from a bad week.

It has been a topsy-turvy start to the season at Old Trafford, with Community Shield glory and three successive Premier League wins followed by three straight defeats in all competitions.

Now, though, United are back on a winning run, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic's close-range header on Thursday wrapping up a 1-0 triumph against Zorya and third successive victory.

It kick-starts their Europa League campaign ahead of Stoke's league visit tomorrow, with Mata quick to underline the importance of beating the relatively unknown Ukrainians after losing their Europa League opener.

"This was a key win," he said. "After losing in Holland (against Feyenoord) we needed to win here and now we can look forward to Sunday's match against Stoke.

"After the bad week we knew that we had three games at Old Trafford.

"We have won two of them and obviously we are really, really focused on winning the last one before the international break."

United will look to close the six-point gap to Manchester City against out-of-sorts Stoke, who look set to be in for another tough afternoon as, if expected, Ibrahimovic starts a third straight match. Thursday's performance was the latest to belie his advancing years, with the qualities of the striker, who turns 35 on Monday, recognised by his team-mates.

"We know that when Zlatan is playing up front, he comes to create great assists and great passes," Mata said.

"We have to run behind him because we need depth in the game. We tried to do that in the first and second half.

"He gives a lot as a striker and he gives a lot when he comes to play as a midfielder as well. We have to take advantage of that."

Belfast Telegraph

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