Rui Vieira/Associated Press
Manchester United star Juan Mata is refusing to give up on the Premier League title and has called on his team-mates to capitalise on any slip-up Manchester City make.
According to Richard Tanner of the Express, he said: “It’s very difficult, especially in the Premier League, for anyone to win every single game. When you play teams like Watford, Stoke [City], West Ham [United] it’s very difficult to win every game and we need to be ready if they drop points.”
The Spaniard believes United can still catch their rivals, who are eight points ahead, contrary to the belief of many pundits:
“Most of them [the pundits] have played football and they know how football can change. If they have said it’s all over then I don’t think they really believe it.
“I remember a few seasons ago when United were eight points ahead of City with only six games left and yet City still won the title on goal difference.
“It’s a crazy league and it’s too early to think that it’s finished. From City they will tell you the same. We need to look at the bigger picture. We’ve just started December and it’s a crucial month with a lot of games.”
The Red Devils take on the Sky Blues at Old Trafford on Sunday and could narrow the gap to five points with a win. Likewise, losing the match would put them 11 points behind.
City have spent much of the season blowing teams away, but they have had to grind out 2-1 wins in their last three Premier League matches, two of which required them to come from behind.
Football writer Liam Canning believes they’re there for the taking, while The Independent’s Miguel Delaney said it is telling the side have still managed to win despite their performance levels dropping:
Liam Canning @LiamPaulCanning
In Manchester City’s last three games, I don’t think they’ve been wholly impressive. The overall performance level has certainly decreased.
Manchester United’s chance to close the gap is now.
Miguel Delaney @MiguelDelaney
It’s that sense of the irrepressible siege building and the inevitable coming.
It’s virtually impossible for any side to maintain the kind of momentum City enjoyed earlier in the season, particularly with the busy Christmas period rapidly approaching and fatigue perhaps starting to kick in.
That they have so far continued to pick up three points on a consistent basis is a testament to their title credentials, though the coming weeks will provide a significant test, starting with United.
City suffered their first defeat in any competition this season on Wednesday as they lost 2-1 against Shakhtar Donetsk.
Goal’s Sam Lee noted the challenge the defeat presents:
Sam Lee @Sammy_Goal
It’s natural that the mood will be slightly different around the place and that the mindset will be slightly different now, but the players will have to focus on the great season they’ve had up until this point, and ensure this defeat really is meaningless
United will be missing Paul Pogba, which is a significant dent to their hopes of winning the contest, but with the match at Old Trafford, they’ll feel they can earn at least a point given City have been a little below par of late.
A victory would be much more useful, but avoiding defeat is critical—should United find themselves 11 points behind City having already played them at home, it would take a monumental turnaround for them to have a chance of winning the title.