Mata: 'When I think of the Champions League... it has to be Drogba'

By Sports Desk April 28, 2023

Juan Mata has named Didier Drogba as the best team-mate he played alongside in the Champions League, while Lionel Messi is the Spaniard's most revered opponent.

Drogba, a legend at Stamford Bridge, scored the winning spot-kick in Chelsea's penalty shoot-out victory over Bayern Munich in the 2012 Champions League final.

It brought up Chelsea's first European crown, one they followed up nine years later by beating Manchester City 1-0 in Porto.

Drogba's coolly taken penalty was his memorable final contribution during his first stint at Chelsea, albeit he returned for a brief second spell in 2014.

Mata, who now plays for Galatasaray, had left for Manchester United by that time, but for him, Drogba will always be the former team-mate synonymous with big Champions League moments.

"If I think about the Champions League, and the times we played together at Chelsea, and when we won the competition, the first big man that comes to mind is Didier Drogba," Mata said in an interview with the Go Turkiye YouTube Channel.

"He scored the goal in the final, he scored the last penalty, he was a leader on and off the pitch, and he is definitely one of the best strikers of the last 20 or 30 years, so he has to be there. 

"He was very helpful to me during my time in London, and he comes to my mind when I think of the Champions League.

"I also have to mention John Terry, [Frank] Lampard, Wayne Rooney, [Robin] van Persie, and many other greats that I had the chance to play with.

"But when I think of Champions League and that final in Munich, it has to be Didier."

 When it came to the toughest opponent playmaker Mata has faced, there was only one player who came to mind.

"I'll have to go with Messi," Mata said. "I played against him in the Spanish league with Valencia, but also in the Champions League with Chelsea.

"I remember those semi-finals when we won it, and he missed a penalty, and he was very unlucky.

"But he is an unbelievable player, still playing at such a great level, we got to see what he did at the World Cup.

"I admire him, and it was a pleasure for me to play against him, hopefully we can play against each other again.

"For me, I have to say he is the one."

Hamit Altintop, who played for Bayern and Real Madrid, echoed Mata's sentiment, though it was not as easy for the former Turkey international to pick out an individual.

"Didier is a real leader on and off the pitch, I played with him in Galatasaray," he added.

"One of my friends asked me if I could make my best XI. In goal: Oliver Kahn, Manuel Neuer, Iker Casillas… These names are all unbelievable players that get mentioned if you talk about the Champions League.

"Iker Casillas is amazing, Cristiano [Ronaldo] the same, if you're talking about the Champions League, you have to mention Messi, of course. All of these names come to mind."

An Italian team is guaranteed to reach the Champions League final for the first time since 2017, when Madrid beat Juventus, with a Milan derby on the cards in the semi-finals.

Manchester City and Madrid face off in the other semi-final tie, and Mata pointed out it is not always the strongest team that goes on to win the competition.

"Sometimes in the Champions League, the best teams don't win, because it's not as long as a normal league, so sometimes you need a little bit of luck: a post, a save, a penalty or other things like that," the 34-year-old said.

"If you don't have mental strength, and if you don't all behave as one, you're not going to win. I felt like that is what happened with Chelsea at that time, we felt like it was meant to be, we felt that was the year.

"For me the mental aspect of football, sometimes it is undervalued, but for me it is key."

Related items

  • Stefano Pioli urging Milan to be more ruthless as they chase second-placed Juve Stefano Pioli urging Milan to be more ruthless as they chase second-placed Juve

    Stefano Pioli called for his AC Milan side to be more “cynical” in front of goal ahead of their Serie A trip to Lazio as they look to turn the heat up on second-placed Juventus.

    Milan were held to a 1-1 home draw by Atalanta in their last fixture – having lost to Monza and Rennes in their previous two matches – leaving them four points behind Juve in the Serie A standings and just five ahead of in-form Bologna in fourth pace.

    The Rossoneri will now be eager to get back to winning ways against Lazio on Friday and coach Pioli wants his side’s performance to be consistent, calling for additional cutting edge up front.

    “We want to produce the same performance as last week whilst aiming for a different result,” Pioli said on his club’s website.

    “We analysed the positives after Atalanta but also tried to understand why we couldn’t score one more than them because we had the chance to. We need to be more cynical”.

    Lazio have lost three of their last five Serie A matches, winning the other two, and will also be keen to get back on track after surrendering a half-time lead to lose 2-1 at Fiorentina last time out.

    That was the second time in three matches Lazio have ended up empty-handing after taking the lead, and left them eighth in the table, eight points off the top four.

    Pioli believes Maurizio Sarri’s “motivated” team will bring the fight to them at the Stadio Olimpico, where Lazio are playing only their second home match in six league outings.

    Pioli also ruled out resting any of his players ahead of next week’s Europa League last-16 first leg at home to Sparta Prague.

    “They (Lazio) are a team with great quality that comes off the back of an unsatisfactory performance,” said Pioli.

    “They will be motivated but can also be thrown off by playing with intensity. The game against Slavia Prague will be very important, we are studying them but are fully focused on Lazio.

    “Then we will have an almost full week, there won’t be changes in Rome in order to rest players. I believe that both sides will try to play with different ideas. The midfield battles will be very important”.

    While Milan will still hold hope of overhauling Juve in second spot, Pioli concedes that city rivals Inter are unlikely to be caught by any team.

    Runaway leaders Inter sit 12 points at the top of the table having won 22 of their 26 matches this season, losing just once and conceding only 12 goals.

    Pioli said: “I think that the top spot in the league is decided, Inter are recording incredible numbers as Napoli did last year.

    “April 21 (Milan derby) is too far away. We have a big game ahead of us and there are various goals to meet before we think about the derby.”

  • Luis Enrique says Paris St Germain can be stronger for Kylian Mbappe departure Luis Enrique says Paris St Germain can be stronger for Kylian Mbappe departure

    Paris St Germain coach Luis Enrique insists they will have a better team next season even after the expected departure of star forward Kylian Mbappe.

    It is understood the 25-year-old France international, whose contract expires at the end of the season, has told the club he wants to join Real Madrid this summer, a move which has been touted for a number of years.

    “It doesn’t cross my mind that the team will be weaker next season. I’m absolutely sure,” Enrique told a press conference ahead of Friday’s match against Mbappe’s former club Monaco.

    “If everything goes well, I think and I’m convinced that we’ll have a better team next season.

    “Me, I always want to try to improve the team and I think there is always a way to improve.”

    PSG, who have an 11-point advantage at the top over Brest, have lost just once in Ligue 1 this season – back in September and are on course for a 10th title in the last 12 years.

    “I am very happy with all the efforts we made, with the results we obtained,” added Enrique.

    “We are following a very good trajectory. Now we are entering a difficult period, the key period, the best of the season.

    “It’s all or nothing, and it’s a feeling we love. We have to continue to be true to our idea, to what got us here, to try to dominate the matches from the start.

    “We don’t need to improve the general idea, but we need to improve the details.”

    While Monaco are currently third they are 13 points behind and have lost six times this season, including four at home.

    “Monaco are one of the best teams in the league and a direct competitor of ours in the title race,” said the PSG boss.

    “We know that we’ve got a tough game ahead of us tomorrow, so we’ll put out a highly competitive side.”

  • Ryan Sessegnon backed to bounce back from hamstring injury nightmare Ryan Sessegnon backed to bounce back from hamstring injury nightmare

    Tottenham defender Ryan Sessegnon has been backed to bounce back from his latest hamstring surgery by a medical expert.

    Sessegnon had an operation on his right hamstring on Monday after the 23-year-old suffered a muscle injury in action for Spurs’ Under-21s on February 17.

    It was the second time Sessegnon has been operated on during the past 12 months, but significantly the previous surgery in July was on his left hamstring.

    The ex-Fulham player has struggled with muscle injuries over recent seasons, although Sessegnon did state in an Instagram post that his left hamstring now feels “strong” and his hope that this operation on his right hamstring would end previous reoccurring issues.

    Sports scientist Dr Rajpal Brar told the PA news agency: “He still has plenty of time right? It is just one of those things with injury cycles or muscular injuries where it can be really tough to get out of, even for more developed players.

    “There has certainly been cases where other players have got into it (injury cycles) and got out of it. It is not by any means a death knell for his career or anything.

    “He has plenty of time and the key will be some methodical rehab, then some good fortune so you have to hope for the best.

    “He has more time to build back and there is also not as much pressure to get back than say a 29- or 30-year-old who is angling to get back to play and get a new contract or whatever it is, whereas it is different for a younger player.”

    Sessegnon has not started for Tottenham since last January after he missed the second half of the 2022-23 campaign with a hamstring injury.

    It was eventually decided to operate on Sessegnon’s left hamstring in July, which sidelined the one-time England Under-21 international for a number of months.

    A cameo against Burnley in the FA Cup last month represented Sessegnon’s first appearance under boss Ange Postecoglou before he was dealt another injury blow when he broke down in a Premier League 2 fixture with West Ham.

    Surgery on Sessegnon’s right hamstring was deemed the best course of action and the full-back has been tipped to return for pre-season by Los Angeles-based Dr Brar, who runs the 3cb Performance rehab centre.

     

    View this post on Instagram

    A post shared by Ryan Sessegnon (@ryansess)

     

    Dr Brar added: “You look at elite footballers, the most common injured muscle is the hamstring and (surgery) is just one of those things where you try to reduce the risk.

    “Surgery is never a guarantee of no re-injury but it is one of those things where you think it might give them a better chance of reducing the re-injury risk.

    “Once you have surgery, you are looking at a 10 to 12-plus weeks timeline depending on all the specifics.

    “The hope is that he can come back for pre-season, get some matches to rebuild that match fitness and match rhythm, then go from there to try to have him ready for the start of next season.”

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.