Juan Mata insists Manchester United are well positioned for a title challenge after coming through a “difficult month” in October.
United headed into the last international break on the back of a damaging 3-0 defeat to Arsenal, but since then they have gone on a four-match unbeaten Barclays Premier League run.
The latest result in that sequence came on Saturday when Louis van Gaal’s team defeated 10-man West Brom 2-0 thanks to a late penalty from Mata and Jesse Lingard’s first goal for the club.
Despite occasional dissenting voices being heard in the crowd at Old Trafford over the last week, United are fourth in the table and one win away from qualifying for the Champions League knockout stages.
Mata is not getting ahead of himself but admits United will be in a good position to challenge for top spot if their current form continues.
“Let’s see about that one, as there are still too many games until the end of the season,” Mata told MUTV when asked about United’s title chances.
“We have to take it game by game.
“It was a difficult month for us with some tough games, but I think we are still in the position to do it.
“Now we have to focus on the national team and then we have a lot of games in late November and December and we have to be at our best level.”
Mata scored United’s second in injury time after Gareth McAuley was dismissed for bringing down Anthony Martial in the box.
But it was Lingard who was the architect of United’s seventh win of the campaign.
The 22-year-old United academy graduate curled a peach of a shot into the far corner after Chris Brunt’s headed clearance landed straight at his feet.
“Jesse was remarkable because in a training session this week he had two chances like this and he shot at once and I said to him, ‘you have to control then you have more feeling for the ball’, and he did it today. It was a fantastic goal,” Van Gaal said.
Lingard suffered a serious knee injury on his United debut in Van Gaal’s first match in charge against Swansea.
The Warrington-born winger then went on loan to Derby before being given another chance by Van Gaal after impressing on United’s pre-season tour.
“He has started three games this season so he is doing well,” Van Gaal added.
“I give everyone a chance, always. When you are in my squad I shall always give a chance when the time is there and the time is there for him and that is why we have given him the chance and he has grabbed it with both hands.”
It could have been a much different story had Saido Berahino not wasted a free header from six yards out just after United had taken the lead.
“If there’s a guy you want it to drop to then it’s Saido. He seems to duck his head and he should have let it hit his forehead,” Albion manager Tony Pulis said.
Pulis accepted Mike Dean had to send McAuley off for fouling Martial as he was the last man.
“I can have no complaints with [the penalty and sending-off] according to the letter of the law,” he said.
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