Juan Mata has spoken out about his rivalry with Henrikh Mkhitaryan at Manchester United this season.
The Spaniard, despite speculation surrounding a potentially fractious relationship with Jose Mourinho, begun the 2016/17 with a string of superb performances in the first team.
More recently, however, Mata has had to watch from the sidelines as Mkhitaryan – now thriving following a spell away from the starting XI – imposed himself in emphatic fashion against the likes of Feyenoord, Zorya Luhansk, Everton and Tottenham Hotspur.
Mata, speaking earlier this week, expressed a desire to play alongside the Armenian in the coming months.
“I’ve played a lot so far. I’m happy. I have scored some goals and I feel good. It is true that there is a big competition but I have always had during my career and now I am at United. I have to keep fighting,” he said.
“I do not think (my rival for the place is Mkhitaryan). We are different players and we can play together. Then it depends on each game as the manager decides what is best for the team. But I think we are different players and I am happy for his recent performance because he is a great guy and deserves it.
“I love playing with Ander, with Mkhitaryan…. We are different but we understand each other well on the pitch because we play the same type of football. Then the manager has the decision. He decides what is best for each match.”
Several pundits, including former United midfielders Paul Scholes and Owen Hargreaves, have called for Mourinho to play Mkhitaryan over Mata. And yet, why such a debate even exists in the first place never fails to astonish me.
After all, as Mata has said himself, the two are more than capable of playing in the same team. Mourinho has an outstandingly easy choice to make: out of Wayne Rooney, Mkhitaryan and Mata, who does he leave on the bench?
Man United fans will be desperate to see Mkhitaryan and Mata – two supremely gifted creative midfielders, blessed with immense vision and technical prowess, capable of interchanging and roaming across the pitch – receive chances to play together in the coming months.