Manchester United midfielder Juan Mata has warned rivals Manchester City that they must be on their top game as they go into their derby clash this Sunday.
Pep Guardiola’s in-form side head to Old Trafford this weekend to face second placed United, with Jose Mourniho’s hosts looking to cut City’s lead down to five points.
Suspended Paul Pogba has admitted United ‘need to win’ the fixture, with City’s current lead of eight points potentially making Sunday’s clash a pivotal game in the title race, even this early in the season and Juan Mata is also desperate for a United victory.
“We are doing what we have to do,” the Spain international told the Daily Mail.
“We would love to be first in the table right now but I think we are doing lots of good things.
Paul Scholes on the Manchester derby:— Man Utd Channel (@ManUtdChannel) December 5, 2017
"It's a big game but it's not that big. Don't know what all the fuss is about. United will always be the number one club in Manchester. The Hacienda is probably still second and it's been shut 20 years". pic.twitter.com/ghHyfZF2KB
“Now, especially on Sunday and during Christmas time, 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.”
United have shown in recent weeks that they definitely have the squad quality and depth to challenge City for the title, especially going to such a crammed festive period.
City, on the other hand, have had to dig deep to secure victory in recent matches, with their last three wins coming from goals in the last ten minutes, a stat which equals the current Premier League record.
Mata and the rest of the United squad will be eager to capitalise on any of the same late-burst form that City have experienced and get in there early.
The attacking midfielder added: “We need to look at the bigger picture. We have just started December and December is a crucial month with a lot of games.
No Pogba vs City so I’m not overly excited for Manchester Derby because Jose will park the 🚌— 𝗔𝘆𝘀𝗵𝗮 𝗥𝗶𝗱𝘇𝘂𝗮𝗻 (@ayshardzn) December 3, 2017
“If we arrive in a position where we want to be in February or March then we can think about ''we won on Saturday and they won on Sunday''.
“It's not the best feeling but we think about the bigger picture and for us we have to keep up the pace and keep winning and winning.
“It's very difficult, especially in the Premier League.
“When you play Watford, Stoke, West Ham away or whatever it's very difficult to win every single game and we need to be ready if they drop points.”
In United’s camp, there is no getting around the notable absence of Paul Pogba through suspension and the impact that will have.
"Yeah, big miss, he's a fantastic player." Mata added.
"He did a fantastic assist (on Tuesday). He's a very complete midfielder, he can do all things. He will be a big miss, but another player will play and try his best.
"I think we have a good squad and have good players to replace any other player. Hopefully we can win for him."