Manchester United midfielder Juan Mata has acknowledged he is happy to play as a supporting striker to Alexis Sanchez during the club’s pre-season tour, as the Red Devils prepare for their last International Champions Cup clash with Real Madrid in Florida.
Jose Mourinho’s side have been beset by various absences through injury, post-World Cup holiday and personal reasons throughout their tour of the US, prompting the unorthodox utilisation of the Spaniard up front alongside his Chilean team-mate
And Mata, who started his career in the Real Madrid academy set-up before spells at Valencia and Chelsea, is enjoying his makeshift role as a forward, having featured in all four of the club’s Stateside games so far.
"I used to play as a striker when I was a kid, and I like to be in the box," the 30-year-old told MUTV. "It’s a different shape. It’s a system that is very difficult to play against.
"I think the manager is trying to fit all the first-team squad players into the XI. In the last two games I was playing with Alexis up front.
"It’s been a few years since I’ve played there but I think once you’ve played in there you pick up the components and you still have them. Now I just try to play that position. I’ve felt okay, so it’s fine."
Whilst United are wrapping up their ICC tour at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Real Madrid are conversely opening their tournament and Mata is believes that the showpiece tie will provide a suitable finale to the Red Devils’ preparations for the new season.
"They are a great team with a great squad. They now have a new manager [Julen Lopetegui] who we know very well but the players are pretty much the same," Mata added.
"They are one of the biggest clubs in the world. We will be able to play with some of our young players, which will be a good experience for them. I think it’s a perfect end to this US tour."
United won their first ICC encounter with Milan after a mammoth penalty shoot-out but were then soundly drubbed by Liverpool 4-1 in their next game. Mata however stresses that fitness is more of a priority for the squad than results.
"Obviously, results could have been different but [they] are not so important now," the Spaniard stated. "The most important thing is to arrive [in the first game] with no injuries and in good physical and mental condition."
Following their game in Miami, United travel to Germany for a final friendly with Bayern Munich before they start their new Premier League campaign against Leicester City at Old Trafford on August 10.