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Manchester United star Juan Mata has thanked Chelsea fans for the special reception they gave him during the 1-1 draw against his former side on Sunday (7 February). The Spanish playmaker also praised the Red Devils' "good football" but lamented a late goal from Diego Costa that left his side without the three points.
The Spanish international became a favourite with Blues supporters during his spell at Stamford Bridge, receiving the Player of the Year award twice before being forced to move to Old Trafford after falling out of favour with Jose Mourinho. And the Chelsea fans proved their love for the midfielder with a warm round of applause when he was substituted for Ander Herrera in added time.
"It's always special for me to play at Stamford Bridge. My feelings are different on a day like this, but once the referee blows the whistle for the kick-off, the only goal is to win, to give everything you have to help the team on the pitch..." Mata wrote in his weekly blog at Kicca. "I have to say that I'm grateful for the reception from the Chelsea fans and their applause when I was substituted. Moments like these ennoble football and it's something you keep in your memory forever."
Mata, though, was frustrated by United's failure to secure the three points, and they remain six points adrift of the Champions League zone. However, the Spaniard, who was named Man of the Match, hailed his side's performance and believes they are showing signs of improvement.
"Today, unlike the movie, it wasn't any given Sunday... It's been a special Sunday. As you know we have played in London against Chelsea and we got a 1-1 draw. I had the feeling, at least on the pitch, that it was an attractive game for the fans, and if we didn't see more goals, that was thanks to the superb performance from both goalkeepers...
" From the first minute we went for the victory and played good football, but unfortunately we let slip two points in the last few moments. It's a pity, it would have been a very important step in this second half of the Premiership, but Chelsea pushed hard (as expected) to at least tie the game and they finally scored their goal. We are improving our game lately, and I'm sure this is the way to get a series of good results in the next few weeks. The team is playing with more determination and confidence, and we want to keep it this way.
"In short, it's been a very emotional day for me, for many reasons: for the game itself, because we were so close to the victory but we couldn't win at the end; for meeting friends and former team-mates, for the 'Man of the Match' award... It's been a day to feel privileged to enjoy this sport."
Meanwhile, the Spaniard also sent a message to Kurt Zouma, after the Chelsea defender was forced to leave the pitch on a stretcher early in the second half with a serious-looking knee injury.
"I don't want to forget about Kurt Zouma's injury, I was very close to him when it happened. He left the pitch on a stretcher and screaming in pain and I hope it's not a very serious injury and he can be back on the pitch as soon as possible..."