Final all that matters to Mata
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Juan Mata has refused to even contemplate the prospect of playing in the UEFA Europa League next season ahead of Chelsea's UEFA Champions League final against Bayern Munich.

The Spanish star joined the Blues from Valencia last summer after rejecting the advances of both Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, the winger declaring at the time that his new club were better equipped to challenge for the Premier League title.

That proved not to be the case this season, with Chelsea finishing below both their London rivals in sixth place, despite their astonishing run to Saturday's Champions League showpiece. They must now beat Bayern in the German giants' own backyard to avoid being out of the competition next term for the first time since 2002 and in the Europa League instead.

Asked what it would mean to be in Europe's second-tier competition next season, Mata said: "We want to play in the Champions League and we want to win this year to play next season." Pressed further, he added: "Our objective is to play in the Champions League. We're only thinking of winning and, after that, let's see."

Despite their Premier League travails, Chelsea have outstripped their domestic rivals by a considerable distance in Europe this season. Indeed, were it not for caretaker manager Roberto Di Matteo's remarkable rescue act, English football would have suffered its most disappointing continental campaign since 1996.

Our objective is to play in the Champions League. We're only thinking of winning and, after that, let's see.
Juan Mata, Chelsea midfielder

 

Mata declared Chelsea were proud of having flown the flag for England in such sensational style since their historic last-16 comeback against Napoli. "Yes, we are, we are," he said. "A lot of good teams like Tottenham, Arsenal, Man United played in European tournaments, but now we are going to play in the Champions League final, representing England as well."

However, Mata acknowledged Chelsea's performances have been up and down. He said: "We won the FA Cup. It's true that in the Premier League, it hasn't been an easy season for us. But now we have the chance to play in the Champions League next year by winning the trophy, so it will be amazing for us to win it."

Mata has been anything but inconsistent, becoming the first man to win the club's Player of the Year prize in his debut season since Ruud Gullit in 1996. The 24-year-old, who was rightly rewarded for his 12 goals and astonishing 24 assists, said: "I feel so proud. I feel so proud and so happy - even more because it's my first season here I'm so grateful to all the supporters."

Having featured in every one of Chelsea's punishing run of fixtures since Di Matteo took charge ten and a half weeks ago, Mata has been wrapped in cotton wool since the FA Cup final. The Blues cannot afford him to be anything other than 100 per cent fit this weekend, especially with fellow midfielders Ramires and Raul Meireles suspended and Florent Malouda struggling with a hamstring injury.

Also banned are Branislav Ivanovic and captain John Terry, who is reportedly lined up to deliver a typically tub-thumping pre-match team talk on Saturday night.He and the other suspended trio will be powerless to influence proceedings on the field, but Mata insisted whoever filled the void at the Allianz Arena would do Chelsea proud.

"I have a lot of confidence in them," he said. "I think no matter who plays, we are Chelsea. We have 24, 25 players ready to play."

Saturday's match is also currently set to be Di Matteo's final match in charge, regardless of the outcome. Mata insisted the uncertainty over Di Matteo's future would not have a negative impact this weekend. "No, I think it's not a problem now. We are only thinking of the final. We are all happy with Robbie - he's a very, very good manager, but we don't know (what will happen)."