Juan Mata has hailed Manchester United’s recent form and hopes they’ve come out the other side after admitting they were forced to take the criticism on the chin.
United’s narrow 1-0 win over Watford on Wednesday marked only the second time this season they have won four in a row in all competitions, leaving them level on points with fourth-place Manchester City, who have a game in hand.
Mata is the only United player to play in every Premier League game this season, and while he admits the campaign has been tough, the Spaniard is enjoying the current winning period.
Speaking exclusively to Sky Sports he said: “It’s a good moment for us, a nice two or three weeks, winning games and enjoying our football, and making our fans proud.
“Since the game against Shrewsbury in the FA Cup, this victory gave us our confidence back. We won a massive game against Arsenal, and we showed character, intensity, and then in the last game it was tough.
“That’s what confidence means for me and any player I think. When you are winning and when you are having good results it is in a way easier to play your football, and that’s what we’re doing right now.”
The players and manager Louis van Gaal have come in for criticism this season having crashed out of the Champions League and losing their grip on the top four.
But Mata, who moved to United in January 2014 under David Moyes, says the criticism is part and parcel of playing for such a big club.
“There’s always that possibility when you’re playing for a club like Manchester United, you have to win every game, and when you don’t win one or two games it is a big problem,” he said.
“You have to deal with it and you have to face it as a professional footballer and just try to focus on what you have to do.
“[Top four] is where I think Manchester United should always be. And now we have two ways to be there, one is through the Premier League and the other is through the Europa League, where we are going through stages and facing a big club like Liverpool.
“We’ll try until the end of the season to get this club where it deserves to be and that is in the Champions League. Obviously we need to win almost every game to do that until the end of the season.”
Mata on United young guns
Much has been made of the influx of young players Van Gaal has introduced in recent weeks due to injuries to senior players, with Marcus Rashford in particular proving a success with four goals in his first two games.
And Mata, who captained United on Wednesday and was the most senior player in the starting eleven at 27, says it is testament to the club’s academy and Van Gaal himself that the more youthful players are holding their own.
“I think it speaks very well for the philosophy of the manager and for the academy of the club.
“The manager believes in them, he showed with Ajax and Bayern Munich that he is not afraid to put young people in the first eleven.
“I was the oldest the other day at 27 years old. If you’d told me 15 years ago in Spain that I was going to be captain of Manchester United, I would say it is almost impossible. I felt very proud and very happy.”