Once at odds and incompatible with each other, Juan Mata and Jose Mourinho have forged a new relationship at Manchester United.
Following Mourinho’s appointment in the summer, both supporters and the British press seemed convinced Mata would have no choice but to leave.
The two did not see eye to eye during their brief time together at Chelsea, where playing time was difficult to get. Mourinho favoured Oscar ahead of Mata – at the time the club’s reigning player of the year – eventually prompting a £37.1-million move to the Red Devils in January 2014. The Portuguese later dismissed the Spaniard as a “luxury player” in a bid to lessen his importance to the squad.
Mourinho appeared to disrespect Mata again in the Community Shield last August, throwing him on as a substitute before removing him from the match 30 minutes later.
But the aftermath was conciliatory. Mata earned consecutive Premier League starts under Mourinho right away and became a regular feature in the manager’s XI.
“He has changed. It is a different environment, it is a different club, and squad. You always play depending on the different players you have,” he said, according to ESPN FC’s Arindam Rej. “Everyone can see the players are playing with more confidence. He is the same person, has the same staff almost, but what has changed is the environment.”
The likes of Morgan Schneiderlin, Bastian Schweinsteiger, and Memphis Depay have all been sacrificed this time around – a feeling Mata knows too well.
Yet Mourinho has rotated the vast majority of his squad this season, and he is finally getting results. Riding a nine-match winning streak across all competitions, United is slowly gaining traction on its Premier League rivals.
A win in Sunday’s match against Liverpool could lift Mourinho’s men within two points of the second-placed Reds.
“Nine wins in a row feels very good,” added Mata. “We are playing better. Not so good in some games but we are winning – and when you don’t play your best game but you are winning, it is a strong mentality, and this club should have that always.”