Juan Mata: Man United target Champions League after Premier League failure
Manchester United midfielder Juan Mata said it would be a "big blow" for his team to be knocked out of the Champions League considering their big deficit in the Premier League.
United are second in the domestic standings but 16 points adrift of leaders Manchester City after 27 games played. They will face Sevilla at the Sanchez Pizjuan stadium on Wednesday, with the return leg on March 13.
"If we had less of a gap with respect to the Premier League leaders and we had a chance to fight for it, it wouldn't be so tough to be eliminated from the Champions League, but now our aim is to progress from every round," Mata told Cadena Ser radio. "It would be a big blow to be eliminated in the last 16."
Sevilla want to avoid a repeat of what happened last season, when they exited the competition at the same stage after falling to Leicester City.
The Spanish club are aiming for their first quarterfinal berth in Europe's elite club competition since 1958.
"It's going to be a difficult game because I know very well how Sevilla play and how they transform the stadium on Champions League game nights," Mata said. "I hope we can go through. I think, in theory, it's an advantage to play the return leg at home so we will try to get a good result in Seville and make sure we complete the job at Old Trafford."
Mata expects Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea to shine on Wednesday.
"He is having another great season," Mata said of the Spain international. "David is reliable. At crucial games, against important rivals, he always shines. He always makes crucial saves to save points. I hope he can continue like that for a long time for United and the national team's sake."
Asked about the possibility that De Gea could leave United for Real Madrid this summer, Mata said: "I hope not. I don't see United without De Gea. He gives us a lot. I've played with many goalkeepers and many great ones, but the level he shows week after week and the capacity to compete is difficult to equal. For me, he is the best. The rumours that always resurface of him going to Real Madrid do not affect him as much anymore."
Mata also said his side is not affected by media reports of a rift between midfielder Paul Pogba and manager Jose Mourinho.
Pogba has been substituted in two of United's past three games, fuelling speculation of a problem between the coach and the player that Mourinho has vehemently denied.
"We cannot control what comes out," Mata said. "It's surprising the rumours that emerge that are untrue like this one is and it does not destabilise us. It's completely false. I see Mourinho very calm on the bench behaving in the best possible way."
Mata did admit being hurt by rumours of the possibility that he would be sold to another club following Mourinho's arrival to United in May 2016.
Under Mourinho, Chelsea sold Mata to United in 2014.
"What hurt me is that they spread rumours and lies about something that did not happen," the 29-year-old told Mundo Deportivo. "It's true that I received calls from friends and family members worried but I knew that I had had no serious personal problem with Mourinho at Chelsea. I just did the talking on the pitch."
The former Valencia star recently signed a contract extension until June 2019.
"I hope to play a few more years after that," Mata said. "But if there's something I've learned from football, it's to live the present. It's a privilege to play in a club like United. I don't know what will happen in the future. I still have plenty of passion to play and train."
Adriana Garcia is a Valencia-based football writer who covers La Liga for ESPN FC.