Jose Mourinho has made it clear to the Manchester United squad just how important the EFL Cup final is, Juan Mata has said.
United last won the competition in 2010 and have only lifted one major trophy – last season’s FA Cup – since Alex Ferguson retired as manager at the end of the 2012-13 campaign.
Sunday’s final against Southampton will also present Mourinho with his first opportunity to win major silverware with the club, having also won the Community Shield over Leicester City in August.
And although United are still in the hunt to defend the FA Cup and claim success in the Premier League and Europa League, Mata has insisted that they will not treat this final with any less respect.
“Yes. He has told us and I think everyone realises how important it is,” the Spain international told Sky Sports when asked if his side considered the trophy to be important. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a League Cup final – a final is a final and you never know when you will play one again.
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“So you have to take advantage of the chance and try to win it. If you lose it’s a bad feeling.
“A final is always a special day in your career. Obviously if you win it’s much better, but playing a final at Wembley in front of lots of our supporters gives the day a different feeling
“I consider myself lucky to have won the trophies I have won, but a final is a day you have to be focused on and you need to try not to make mistakes.
“But also you need to try to enjoy it as well. It’s a special day but without enjoying it you cannot perform at your best level.”
Mata’s last visit to Wembley ended in somewhat controversial fashion, with the 28-year-old visibly annoyed to have been substituted late on against Leicester after only coming on in the 63rd minute for Jesse Lingard.
The incident sparked rumours that Mourinho – who sold Mata to United as Chelsea manager in 2014 – would look to offload the attacking midfielder once again, but the Spain international has gone on to establish himself as an integral part of the Portuguese manager’s plans at Old Trafford.
“It was a different situation because we had one more change than normal, we were winning, and he obviously tried to use some time with the change,” Mata explained. “There was a lot of fuss about it but I was calm and happy at the end because the team won.
“I always have believed in myself and I know what I can bring to the team. I always kept my mind focused on what I had to do and helping the team the best I can. The rest I cannot control but that doesn’t matter to me.”
Everton manager Ronald Koeman said now is not the time to discuss a new contract amid speculation linking him with Barcelona.
Barca head coach Luis Enrique is under increasing pressure at the LaLiga titleholders and former player Koeman has emerged as a possible contender, should the Spanish giants opt for change.
Despite the ongoing speculation, Dutchman Koeman – who is less than 12 months into a three-year deal following his arrival from Premier League rivals Southampton – is not interested in renewing his contract at Goodison Park.
“Not now, no,” Koeman responded when asked if he had been approached over a new deal.
“Yeah, OK, links, that’s always what happens, but I think you don’t sign a new contract in your first season if you have three seasons of contract.
“No, no, let’s wait and see what happens in the future.”
Everton are seventh in the Premier League, eight points adrift of fifth-placed Liverpool ahead of Saturday’s visit of cellar-dwelling Sunderland.
Karim Benzema is not suspended from the French national team and his selection is in the hands of coach Dider Deschamps, French Football Federation president Noel Le Graet has confirmed.
Benzema has been in international exile since being placed under formal investigation by French police in November 2015 over an alleged blackmail plot involving fellow France international Mathieu Valbuena, with both players missing Euro 2016 on home soil.
Le Graet previously said Benzema, who has denied any wrongdoing, was free to return to the fold once the legal proceedings are over but he told a media conference on Friday the decision over his recall is down to Deschamps.
“Karim Benzema can play with the French national team,” Le Graet said. “He’s not suspended.
“If Didier [Deschamps] wants to call him he can at any time. It is the choice of the head coach, 100 per cent.”
Le Graet expressed his frustration at how long Benzema’s legal case has taken to be resolved, while hailing the forward’s goalscoring prowess.
“I personally think highly of Karim Benzema and, first of all, regard him highly within the sport,” Le Graet said. “He’s the best French scorer in Europe.
“He’s in the line-up of Real Madrid, which is not an easy task. No one can contest he has a lot of qualities.
“This case is taking ages to be resolved. It doesn’t mean that I don’t rate such a good player… The justice is a little slow in this case, in my opinion.
“The French Federation has always been clear about it. At one stage he couldn’t join the French national team. It’s true he wasn’t in the group to play in the European Championship, but the qualities of the player are real.”
Antonio Conte hailed Carlo Ancelotti as the best Italian coach in the world ahead of the Bayern Munich boss’ 1,000th game in the dugout.
Ancelotti will reach the milestone on Saturday when Bayern take on Hamburg at the Allianz Arena.
He has enjoyed a storied career and has won league titles with AC Milan, Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain.
Ancelotti has also lifted the Champions League three times, twice at Milan and once at Real Madrid, guiding the Spanish giants to ‘La Decima’.
And, speaking ahead of Premier League leaders Chelsea’s clash with Swansea City, Conte told a media conference: “He is now the best Italian coach, one of the best in the world. 1,000 games is not easy, to stay on the bench for that long but with that responsibility to win every season is great. He deserves the best.
“I am happy to try and go close to Carlo but his career was fantastic as manager. At Chelsea I hope to continue my work.
“We have started a new path and I hope to continue my work and to grow together in the present and the future.”
Saturday sees Conte go against a former Ancelotti assistant in Paul Clement, who worked under the Italian at Chelsea, PSG, Madrid and Bayern.
Conte has been impressed with the revival Clement has overseen at Swansea, who have won three of their last four games, including a 3-2 victory at Liverpool, with their only loss in that run a last-gasp 2-1 defeat at Manchester City.
“He has reinforced the team and we must pay attention. If you saw the game against Liverpool or Manchester City, you will understand,” Conte added.
“But I will help the players understand this and face them in the right way. But for sure Paul has done a great job since coming in.”