Juan Mata believes Manchester United against Liverpool is “the biggest” encounter that the English footballing calendar has to offer.
The Premier League’s bitter north-west rivalry resumes on Saturday at Old Trafford as both Louis van Gaal and Brendan Rodgers look to bounce back from damaging defeats to Swansea and West Ham respectively prior to the international break.
Liverpool beat United twice during Mata’s first season with the club, before the 20-time champions responded in kind in 2014-15, and the Spain international admits they were all unforgettable games.
“You cannot know it if you don’t live it from the inside,” Mata told United’s pre-match programme. “I knew when I came to England that United-Liverpool was one of the biggest games, but when you are inside it and part of it, you realise it is the biggest.
“The history of both clubs, the rivalry… you can feel it from the start of the week before the game, it’s unbelievable. When we lost my first game against them it was very disappointing and you could feel it in the atmosphere and among the fans. But when we won 3-0 and also won at Anfield, it’s something the people never forget, so it’s always a massive game for us.”
Mata scored in the 3-0 win over Liverpool at Old Trafford before his stunning scissor-kick volley sealed a 2-1 win at Anfield in the closing few weeks of the season, and the former Chelsea man admits it was a special moment.
“People I meet in the street always remember that game and it’s something that will always be there for me,” he said. “The week after it, every day at the training ground everyone came up to me and congratulated me and you could feel that for all the staff at United and for every supporter around the world, that game was something special.”