Mata’s fond Turin memories

Manchester United will play against Real Sociedad on Thursday at the Allianz Stadium. The last Red Devils’ visit ended in triumph (against Juventus), with Juan Mata’s free-kick goal. The Asturian has been shining in European competitions for more than a decade.

Manchester United will face Real Sociedad this Thursday at the Allianz Stadium in Turin, in the first leg of the 1/16 of the Europa League that had to be played in San Sebastián. A circumstance caused by the pandemic that, however, is a wink to Juan Mata’s recent career in European competitions. On 7 November 2018, a superb free-kick from the Asturian was decisive for United victory in their visit to Juventus (1-2).

That direct free-kick was just one more example of Juan’s love affair with the continental competitions. His winners’ list has a Champions League (2011/12) and two Europa Leagues (2012/13, 2016/17). He has spent more than a decade since his first big European night. On 25 February 2010, at Mestalla and against Club Brugge, a goal from the Spanish international in the first minute forced the extra time to end with Valencia’s qualification for the next round of the Europa League (3-0 was the final result).

Two seasons later, Mata’s goal at San Paolo gave Chelsea live in their last 16 Champions League tie against Napoli. The comeback at Stamford Bridge in the second leg would have been impossible without that goal. The goal becomes even more critical when reviewing the outcome of the tournament. Chelsea became champions in the finale in Munich, after the penalty shootout. A header from Drogba forced the extra time after a corner kick taken by Juan. In the following season, Mata would be the protagonist of the Europa League’s final won by Chelsea against Benfica. The two English goals came with a pass from him.

On Thursday, Manchester United will return to a tournament where they reached the semifinals in its last edition. Juan Mata scored two goals and assisted five times on the way to the penultimate round. Months after the elimination against Sevilla, the Red Devils meet again with a Spanish team. Eager for revenge.

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