Juan Mata wants Manchester United to rescue their season by winning the Europa League.
United missed the chance to close the gap on the top four in the Premier League last weekend when they lost 2-1 at Sunderland.
The latest damaging defeat leaves Louis van Gaal’s side six points behind fourth-placed Manchester City with just 12 matches of the season remaining.
Van Gaal, whose position has come under scrutiny in recent weeks, now believes United’s best chance of qualifying for the Champions League is via the Europa League.
The Europa League is a far less prestigious competition, but Mata knows how much of a lift winning the trophy can be as he did so with Chelsea in 2013 and the Spanish playmaker hopes United can do the same this term.
“I understand this is not the best possible situation,” Mata wrote in his blog ahead of Thursday’s last-32 match against Danish champions Midtjylland.
“But it is what it is, and our goal is to keep advancing so we can have the chance to lift this trophy, which would come with a double reward.
“My personal experience tells me that if we work for it with excitement it could be a positive way to finish the season, as I lived three seasons ago.
“At the moment we face Midtjylland, the current champions of Denmark, now third in their league. Step by step.”
Mata rarely espouses negative views about United in his blog, which is published every Monday, despite the club’s current troubles on the pitch.
But even the former Chelsea midfielder found it hard to put a positive spin on the latest setback of the season.
United rarely looked like beating Sunderland, who have won just six matches all season, and it seemed only a matter of time before the Black Cats found a winner after Anthony Martial equalised Wahbi Khazri’s opener.
Mata conceded the defeat was a blow to United as they had recently looked like they had turned a corner.
“After three games improving our level, with positive results, last Saturday we lost in Sunderland,” the 27-year-old said.
“The team was performing well in the previous weeks and it hurts not to have the consistency that you need to shorten the gap with the teams standing ahead of us in the table. Even more this weekend when they were facing each other.
“It’s a message that we have repeated before this season, but the truth is that the only way to get to a better position is by working hard for the next game. There is no other way.
“Mourning is useless now; besides, there are still many games to play and many things can happen this season.”
United fans, many of whom want Jose Mourinho to replace Van Gaal, have vented their anger at the team and the manager on several occasions this season and Mata can see why.
“I understand and share your frustration, but once again the way to overcome the defeats and the complicated moments is, in my opinion, by standing united, working hard and never giving up,” he said.