Juan Mata has stressed the importance of Manchester United reaching the Champions League ahead of the 2017/18 campaign.
Jose Mourinho’s men currently lie six points behind fourth-placed Liverpool in the Premier League table with two games in hand.
They will also fancy their chances of securing a Champions League spot via the Europa League after drawing Anderlecht in the quarter final.
And Mata, who netted the only goal of the game against FC Rostov on Thursday, was quick to emphasise the need for securing a Champions League spot this season.
“The Europa League became very important for us a while ago,” he said.
“It’s another chance for us and we will take it very seriously. It’s very important – it could be one more trophy and it means we play Champions League.
“But I still think we have the chance to get to the Champions League through the Premier League. I still think we can win a lot of games and get into the third or fourth positions.
“It’s very important to beat Middlesbrough, especially after the draw against Bournemouth at Old Trafford.
“We know we have to add points in the Premier League because our rivals are winning games. We need to win games and hopefully we can do it on Sunday.
“We need to focus on what we are in. We are in the Premier League – obviously not playing for the championship – but playing for the third or fourth position, and trying to win the Europa League.”
This season has witnessed unavoidable progress emerge at Old Trafford, with Mourinho’s men invoking a truly forward-thinking approach following the trauma of last year, but it will count for little if Man United don’t compliment their improved style with a place in Europe’s biggest competition next year.
Doubts continue to loom about the traditional avenue of Champions League qualification – the fourth place trophy. United haven’t breached the top four since September and will have to play catch-up with a top five relieved of European duties at a time where fixture congestion reaches almost breaking point.
But you sense that United, after drawing Anderlecht, will fancy their chances of going the distance in Europe this season, with no remaining teams in this year’s competition serving as truly dangerous opponents.