London: Anfield match-winner Juan Mata warned his Manchester United team-mates on Monday that they still have a long way to go in the Premier League race for Champions League qualification.
Juan Mata. Pic/AFP
Mata scored a superb brace on Sunday as United won 2-1 at Liverpool to move five points clear of their rivals in the battle for a top-four finish. Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur are both two points further back, but with games against Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal still to come, Mata says that United must maintain their focus.
"Beating Liverpool at Anfield, being lucky to score two nice goals and feeling (the fans') gratitude is something I will never forget," the Spaniard wrote on his weekly blog. "But we must be cautious: these are just three points in the race to our goal." Mata has been slow to earn manager Louis van Gaal's trust and had not started consecutive Premier League games in over two months prior to Sunday's match at Anfield.
But he will hope that his performance proves a breakthrough, having opened the scoring with a neat 14th-minute finish before doubling his tally in the second half with a spectacular scissors kick. "This Sunday has been one of the happiest days of my career," Mata said.
"When you start playing football as a kid on muddy pitches, for something so simple and wonderful as having fun, you dream about becoming a footballer one day to be in a game like the one in Anfield." Discussing his second goal, an acrobatic volley after a one-two with Angel di Maria, he added: "Many of you are asking me about the second goal and the truth is I don't know very well how to explain it.
"It's something you just don't think (about)... It's more a resource you use when you understand it's better to shoot the ball as it comes rather than trying to control it and keep the play. "Angel's pass invited (me) to do so. It's one of the best goals of my career for sure, among other things because it happened in such a massive game. And it helped us win."