Mata in his ‘natural habitat’ at Man Utd

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho and Juan Mata

Mata joined Manchester United from Chelsea for £39.1m in January 2014 when David Moyes was in charge at Old Trafford and Mourinho at Chelsea

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho says midfielder Juan Mata has found his “natural habitat” at Old Trafford.

Mourinho sold the Spain international to United for a then club record £39.1m in 2014 when he was manager at Chelsea.

He replaced Mata in last month’s Community Shield having brought him on as a substitute, a move BBC pundit Danny Murphy called “embarrassing”.

But Mourinho said: “In my project at Chelsea he was a good player. At Man Utd he is a very good player.”

And he said he saw Mata as a key part of his plans.

The 28-year-old had been repeatedly left out of the Chelsea side before his January 2015 exit, completing two full 90 minutes in the Premier League during the 2014-15 campaign.

Mourinho did not feel the Spain midfielder did enough defensive work in a side built around physicality that would go on to become champions – but he has repeatedly claimed that it was Mata who asked to leave.

And at United, Mourinho says, he has a completely different squad.

“At Manchester United I have no players to play transitional football,” said the Portuguese.

“We are not so physically compact like when we won the title in 2015. We are trying to play in a different way that is very adapted to his qualities.

“He has found a natural habitat for his football.”

‘I am here to protect Rooney’

After being dropped for Saturday’s 4-1 win over Leicester, it had been anticipated Wayne Rooney would return to Mourinho’s starting line-up for Thursday’s Europa League encounter with Zorya Luhansk at Old Trafford.

But with his training restricted this week by a bad back and in the knowledge there is huge media interest in his captain, Mourinho says he will not pick him unless he is fit enough to do himself justice.

He said: “With the situation [the media] create for him, he really can’t afford to have a performance that is not really good.

“I am here to protect him and not put him in difficult situations.

“If he is not totally ready I have to discuss with the medical staff whether he starts or is on the bench.”

However, he said he expected to play veteran Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who will be 35 on 3 October and is the second oldest player in his squad, both against the Ukrainians and against Stoke in the Premier League on Sunday.

“Zlatan has plenty of time to rest. It is different for the other players who go off with the national teams,” Mourinho said.

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