Juan Mata has sent a message of defiance to Manchester City ahead of Sunday’s derby, insisting that the title race was far from over.
Jose Mourinho’s men have made an imposing start to their Premier League campaign, accumulating more points after 15 game than what they managed at the same stage during their triumphant 2010/11 campaign.
But Man City have been in stupendous form, becoming just the second side in Premier League history to aqculmuate 43 points from 15 matches and racing eight points ahead of Manchester United as a result.
Speaking ahead of the derby, Mata made it clear that, in spite of the current gap, there were still plenty of twists and turns to be had over the next six months.
“It’s very difficult to win every single game and we need to be ready if they drop points,” he said.
“Physically, December is a very tough month. We play at Christmastime every two or three days and we need to be ready for that.
“If we can get out of the Christmastime with all the points then we could be happy because it means we will be in a better position than we are now.
“We play against Manchester City at Old Trafford and it’s one of those games that everyone wants to play. One of those really special games that the Premier League has.”
“Hopefully, first of all, it’s a great game of football and, secondly, we can win.”
“They know how football can change,” said the midfielder, who scored the winner when United beat City 1-0 in the League Cup at Old Trafford last season. I don’t think they do [believe the title race is over] and if they do I don’t think they really believe it.
“I remember a few seasons ago when United were ahead of City and then they won by goals [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 have just started December and December is a crucial month with a lot of games. If we arrive in a position where we want to be in February or March then we can think about whether we won on Saturday and they won on Sunday.
“We think about the bigger picture and for us we have to keep up the pace and keep winning and winning. It’s difficult for everyone to win every single game so we are waiting for that.
“We are doing what we have to do. We would love to be first in the table right now but I think we are doing lots of good things.
“Now, especially on Sunday and during Christmastime, which we all know how difficult it is to win every single game, we need to keep that pace if we want to be in a position to challenge for the title at the end of the season. Hopefully we can do it.”
Personally, I cannot help but feel as if the top six of the Premier League remains a squabble between five teams while Man City continue to exist happily in a league of their own.
An eight point lead is hardly insurmountable, yet it requires United to play with the pressure of knowing that one slip-up could see that lead stretch to double figures. And that is when you start to enter Paris Saint Germain levels of procession.
But a win on Sunday would turn the tide dramatically. Reducing the gap to five points would give United genuine cause to start looking upwards, rather than down at the likes of Chelsea and Arsenal.