Juan Mata is confident of answering Jose Mourinho’s call to arms to his injured players as Ander Herrera backed Zlatan Ibrahimovic to bounce back from a cruciate knee ligament injury that could threaten the Manchester United striker’s playing career.
Mata has been sidelined for the past 3½ weeks after undergoing hernia surgery but the United playmaker is hopeful of returning to action shortly as Mourinho prepares for a critical end to the season.
The Spaniard will miss Thursday’s derby at Manchester City and probably the visit of Swansea City to Old Trafford on Sunday but he hopes to make the first leg of United’s Europa League semi-final away to Celta Vigo a week on Thursday or the trip to Arsenal three days later.
“As you can imagine, this month has been a bit too long for me due to injury,” Mata wrote in his blog, One Hour Behind. “I had never been in a situation like this before (I’ve been very lucky), but the truth is I’m feeling much better now and I hope to be back with the team soon, to try to help in the last spell of the season.
“I hope so, because that’s all I want: being always available to help and to contribution as much as I can, both on and off the pitch. A million thanks for all your messages wishing me a speedy recovery, I’m getting closer!”
Speaking after Sunday’s 2-0 win at Burnley, Mourinho had challenged the injured defensive pairing of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones to shun “safe thinking”, adopt a “crazy mentality” and make “a last push” in order to ease the burden on Eric Bailly. Bailly is United’s only fit recognised centre-half with Marcos Rojo, like Ibrahimovic, also out with a cruciate knee ligament injury.
Ibrahimovic had posted a message on Instagram on Sunday night in which he vowed to “come back even stronger” after rupturing the anterior and posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during United’s 2-1 Europa League win over Anderlecht last Thursday. The injury has also raised serious doubts about his future at Old Trafford.
“First of all, thank you for all the support and love,” Ibrahimovic wrote. “It’s no news I got injured so I will be out of football for a while. I will go through this like everything else and come back even stronger.
“So far, I played with one leg so it shouldn’t be any problem. One thing is for sure, I decide when it’s time to stop and nothing else. Giving up is not an option. See you soon.”
United’s players had worn training tops adorned with the names of Ibrahimovic and Rojo at Turf Moor in support of the injured pair. But Herrera is convinced Ibrahimovic will recover to play again, despite being 35, and also voiced his sympathy for Rojo, whose absence comes at a time when he is playing the best football of his United career.
“Of course he can,” the United midfielder said when asked if he thought Ibrahimovic would play again. “First, because he is privileged physically. His physique, his body is one of the best I have ever seen so I think it will be easier for him to get back than others.
“But of course he is 35, he will have to work very, very hard, be very patient. But I have no doubt he will be back because he loves football, he loves to win, he loves to score goals.
“He loves to train every day. Every day he wants to win, every box, every game of football tennis, everything in training, so I have no doubt he will be back. But everyone, we have to be supporting them - not only Zlatan but also Marcos because they are really bad moments for them.
“Marcos was in the best moment of his career, really focused. For me, at the moment he was one of the best centre-backs in the world - very difficult to beat him, every duel he won, every tackle he won.
“He has to know that he can be back as good as he was. He is my friend and I will try to be very, very close to him to support him and help him.”
Herrera would not be drawn on whether he thought Ibrahimovic still had a future at United. “I don’t talk about contracts. Sorry, it is not my business. Not my job,” he said. “I understand you ask me, but it is not about myself and I cannot talk about it.”