Ralf Rangnick says Juan Mata has faced intense competition at Manchester United as his career at the club falters.
United extended Mata’s contract for a year this summer, but the 33-year-old has only featured four times this season and his two starts were against West Ham in the League Cup and the last stage game of Champions League groups against Young Boys – games where there was mass rotation.
Mata is out of contract in June and almost certain to leave United after eight and a half years, while the World Cup and European Championship winner has not played for Spain since 2016.
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“He’s also very popular in our group,” Rangnick admitted. “I think everyone likes Juan a lot and he can still play at this level but it’s a matter of competition. We have quite a few players for these midfield places and I will have to choose between five and six players for tomorrow’s game.”
Raphael Varane reiterated his importance to United when he returned to the squad in the 3-2 Premier League win over Tottenham on Saturday. United haven’t lost a game Varane and Harry Maguire have started and finished together and their heaviest defeats of the campaign against Leicester, Liverpool, Watford and Manchester City have come without Varane.
The 28-year-old is set to start again against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League Round of 16 second leg on Tuesday night, but Rangnick also hailed Victor Lindelof’s cameo against Spurs.
“It’s very important, but with Victor Lindelof we also won quite a few games, played well and had quite a few clean sheets,” Rangnick explained. “So at the moment we have top players for the center of defence, it won’t be that easy for me to make that decision for tomorrow.
“Also when Victor came on in the last 10 or 15 minutes he played well. It’s good that Rapha is fully fit again, it’s also good that we looked after him and he has taken care of himself and that he didn’t play too soon. Now he seems to be in regular form and can play for us regularly.”
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