Having played for Valencia, Chelsea, Manchester United and Spain during his career, Juan Mata was spoiled for choice when it came to selecting the best XI of players he was lucky enough to call team-mates.
Speaking to FourFourTwo, Mata ultimately named his ultimate Xl of: David de Gea; Branislav Ivanovic, John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra; Michael Carrick, Frank Lampard, Ryan Giggs; Wayne Rooney, Didier Drogba, David Villa.
This got us thinking of the best XI of players he excluded and we present them to you in a 4-3-3 formation.
GK: Petr Cech
While we haven’t ignored the merits of former Spain internationals Pepe Reina and Iker Casillas, we had to pick Cech for the goalkeeper’s spot.
The shot-stopper played alongside Mata at Chelsea and helped them win both the Champions League and FA Cup in 2011-12.
He produced an incredible save to deny Liverpool’s Andy Carroll at Wembley and then saved three penalties against Bayern Munich.
Petr Cech's incredible save in 2012 FA Cup final. One of his best ever? pic.twitter.com/cqmZZpmAo4
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) January 15, 2019
RB: Antonio Valencia
Valencia was still a winger when Mata joined Manchester United in 2014 but eventually made a transition to right-back under Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho.
The former Ecuador international found a new lease of life when moving into his new position, winning the United Players’ Player of the Year award in 2016-17.
“He is a beast,” Mata told MUTV in 2016. “He is a great player and very important for us, defending and going forward. He gives us a lot on the right flank.”
CB: Gerard Pique
Mata joined Manchester United five-and-a-half years after Pique left the club but they were often international team-mates with Spain.
The centre-back played every game at the 2010 World Cup and 2012 European championships, conceding just three goals across 13 games as Spain won both tournaments.
CB: Sergio Ramos
Alongside Pique, Ramos played in all 13 games at those two tournaments, but he also helped Spain win the 2008 European championships.
During his peak years, he was one of the world’s most fearsome defenders, and he also developed a knack for scoring vital goals from set pieces.
But more importantly, the centre-back is a wonderful sh*thouse.
LB: Ashley Cole
Cole had already established himself as one of the best left-backs in the world before Mata joined Chelsea in the summer of 2011.
He famously excelled in both legs of the 2012 Champions League semi-final against Barcelona and then scored in the penalty shootout win over Bayern.
The former England international also started alongside Mata in their 2012 FA Cup final win and their 2013 Europa League final win.
CM: Sergio Busquets
Mata picked three Premier League legends for his midfield three and that means our line-up has a plethora of Spanish midfielders to choose from.
Busquets dictated the tempo for Spain’s most successful side and just about edged out Xabi Alonso for the deep-lying midfielder role.
The La Masia graduate is also willing to do the dirty work for his side, regularly committing a tactical foul or feigning injury to break up play.
CM: Andres Iniesta
We had to rub our eyes when we saw that Iniesta had been left out of Mata’s team-mates XI but at least it makes our team a lot stronger.
The 38-year-old is widely regarded as one of the greatest midfielders of all time and famously scored the winning goal in the 2010 World Cup final.
“If I consider the best footballer I played with, I look at someone that was not particularly quick, strong or tall. Iniesta,” Mata told The Guardian in 2017.
“When we played for Spain he always passes the ball to you in the right moment. He always makes you better.”
— Planet Football (@planetfutebol) July 11, 2020
After including Busquets and Iniesta in our team, it made sense to pick Xavi and complete that iconic midfield trio.
We’d like to see a team try and dominate possession against our XI.
RW: Angel Di Maria
While Di Maria failed to live up to expectations during his one season at Manchester United, he still made a big impression on Mata.
“Angel is a phenomenon,” Mata told El Pais in 2014. “He brings a lot of things, is very strong with the ball, very electric. He intimidates the opposing defences, he forces the opposition to stand back.”
The Argentinian World Cup winner was also the one that set up Mata’s stunning scissor-kick against Liverpool in March 2015.
— RedMancunian (@RedMancunian) March 22, 2016
ST: Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Ibrahimovic joined United as a 34-year-old free agent amid doubts from some whether he could make an impact on the Premier League.
But the striker quickly silenced his doubters, scoring 28 goals in all competitions in 2016-17 as United won the League Cup and the Europa League.
“He has great physical strength combined with great quality, great flexibility, great movement and reading of the game, so he has almost everything,” Mata told talkSPORT in 2016.
“He has as well a strong personality, which has helped him a lot through the years. He says all time that he really feels it is his mentality that sets him apart.
“I am very happy that he is here because I am always happy to play with great players during my career and obviously he is one of the best strikers in the game.”
LW: Eden Hazard
Despite only playing alongside Hazard for 18 months at Chelsea, Mata got to see just how talented the Belgium international is.
“The best Premier League player… I mean, I used to love to play with, and against, Eden Hazard,” Mata told the official United website in 2020.
“For me, for many years, he was the best in the league. He could win games by himself. I used to train with him and I know how good he can be.
“He has been very unlucky in his time with Real Madrid with some injuries, but I’m sure he’ll show his real level when he’s fit to do that and he’s not injured.”
The best Xl not to make our best Xl of players not to make Juan Mata’s best Xl of his team-mates: Iker Casillas; Cesar Azpilicueta, Nemanja Vidic, Carles Puyol, Jordi Alba, Xabi Alonso, Paul Pogba, David Silva, Joaquin, Fernando Torres, Robin van Persie.