JUAN MATA INSISTS MANCHESTER IMPROVEMENT
Manchester United have won just six times at
home in the Premier League this season and
midfielder Juan Mata says they must start
converting draws into victories at Old Trafford if
they are to finish in the top four.
United are fifth and trail fourth-place
Manchester City by four points, albeit with a
game in hand. United have drawn nine of their
16 home league games and collected more points on their travels than at home.
Mata hopes United's home fortunes change when they host leaders Chelsea on Sunday.
"We will fight until the end to be in the top four, and in order to do so we need mainly to get better at
Old Trafford, at home," Mata wrote in his blog.
"We have an opportunity the next weekend against the leaders Chelsea. It's one of those games that
everybody wants to play."
Mata might not play again this season after he underwent groin surgery last month but the Spain
midfielder hopes to make a swift return.
"When you're injured you feel like time goes by very slow, that's the truth, and my week seemed
longer than usual," he said.
"I hope that things keep going well and I can be back soon to enjoy what I like so much: training and
While a top-four finish secures participation in next season's Champions League, they could also get
there by winning the Europa League. United travel to face Belgian side Anderlecht on Thursday in the
quarterfinal first leg of Europe's second-tier club competition.
..................................ALONSO BACKS COSTA TO FIRE AT UNITED.................................
Chelsea striker Diego Costa offers more than just goals and will rise to the occasion in Sunday's trip to face Manchester United despite his recent lean spell in front of goal, wing back Marcos Alonso has said.
Costa's 17 league goals have helped Chelsea build a comfortable seven-point lead at the top of the Premier League table but the 28-year-old Spaniard has failed score in his last five games for the club.
"Is he a big game player? Yes. Manchester United is going to be a tough game for us but it doesn't matter who scores, hopefully we will get the three points," Alonso told British media.
"Diego has been massive for Chelsea this season. He has almost scored 20 goals and that is a significant contribution. But it's not just about that, with the way we play, he is very important."
Second-placed Tottenham Hotspur's run of six consecutive league victories has put Chelsea under increasing pressure to pick up points and Alonso admits Costa's sense of humour often helps defuse the tension in the dressing room.
"Diego is very good for the group... The pressure is there. It's good to play with this pressure because it means we are fighting for titles and trying to stay up there," Alonso added.
"It's good to have someone like Diego around who is funny and provides something to enjoy. Being in this position is something that should always be enjoyed."
.......................................LEICHESTER READY FOR ATLETICO..........................................
Leicester City have shown a remarkable ability to defy the odds but face their sternest test yet in the Champions League quarterfinal against Atletico Madrid, the team they have replaced as European football's most fashionable underdogs.
Before Leicester enchanted the sporting world last year with their miraculous Premier League title win, Atletico had worked similar wonders in 2014 by breaking the strangehold of Real Madrid and Barcelona in La Liga.
Now the two sides who have punched delightfully above their weight meet in the first leg in Madrid on Wednesday – but it is Leicester who remain the European novices while Atletico have grown into true continental heavyweights under Diego Simeone.
Unlike Leicester, who after their barely believable title win experienced an emphatic downturn in results which ultimately cost coach Claudio Ranieri his job in February, there was no difficult follow-up campaign for Atletico.
Charismatic coach Simeone has gone on to turn Madrid's 'other' team into perennially formidable opponents in his five-year tenure, taking them to two Champions League finals in the last three years and four successive quarterfinals.
Atletico have also hit form just at the right time as they aim to land a first European Cup after losing in three finals (to Real in 2014 and 2016 and to Bayern Munich in 1974), winning five of their last seven games and conceding just two goals.
They held La Liga leaders Real to a 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu on Saturday.
"The Champions League is the best competition in the world and it always motivates you," Atletico defender Filipe Luis told reporters on Monday.
"You can really feel the good atmosphere in the team at the moment and we're feeling very confident after what we have done in our last few games. It's going to be difficult, but we're in our best form."
Yet Leicester are on a similarly hot streak under Craig Shakespeare, who became the only manager alongside Pep Guardiola and Carlo Ancelotti to win his first five games in the Premier League after succeeding Ranieri.
The club's long-time assistant coach also oversaw the team's elimination of another La Liga side Sevilla in the last 16, the latest of Leicester's incredible feats in the last 18 months.
Shakespeare's perfect start ended with Sunday's 4-2 defeat at Everton when he fielded a heavily rotated team with one eye clearly on Wednesday's game, in which they will be without injured captain Wes Morgan.
To keep the fairytale going, Leicester must become the only other team than Real Madrid to beat Atletico in a European knockout tie since 2013 but Simeone's side have not conceded in their last eight Champions League games at the Vicente Calderon.
"They have incredible fighting spirit, a real team ethic, they work hard and they have a great counter-attack," Leicester forward Leonardo Ulloa said in an interview with Spanish daily Marca.
"They have many strong points and are difficult to overcome, which makes them the type of team no-one wants to face."