Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says that Juan Mata and Nemanja Matic are having an enormous impact on the team, despite their fringe roles.
United have forged a nine-match unbeaten Premier League run which dates back to the start of November. Indeed, they have won seven of those matches and their points haul has seen them climb the table.
The Red Devils now sit three points behind leaders Liverpool with a game in hand on the champions. As such, talk has surfaced of a change in mentality following the earlier pressure surrounding the club.
United can stretch their unbeaten run to double figures against Aston Villa on New Years’ Day. Ahead of the clash at Old Trafford, Solskjaer faced questions from the media about the reasons for his players’ turnaround in form.
“One, they’re two years older than when I came. Two, some of them are really strong personalities that we’ve brought in and they have been a really good influence,” the manager told reporters (via Goal).
“We have competition for places, which means you cannot go around and think you can just fake your way into being part of this team. You only deserve to be in a team that you contribute to.
“I think everyone has realised they are privileged to be part of Man Utd, such a fantastic club with a fantastic history.”
Solskjaer went on to name some of the players who have proved a crucial part of his club’s form. But while Bruno Fernandes has played an obvious role, the manager named Mata and Matic as excellent influences.
Mata has only made nine appearances this season, with his fellow midfielder making 14 outings.
“When you’re here, enjoy it as much as you can and maybe you’ll experience some fantastic times,” he added.
“You’ve got winners like Juan Mata and Nemanja Matic.
“They don’t play every single game but they are so influential in the group and the build-up to games and during games when they’re not playing.”
Solskjaer wary of Grealish threat
Elsewhere in his pre-match press conference, Solskjaer spoke about Villa captain Jack Grealish‘s threat.
The England international netted an excellent goal at Old Trafford last season in a 2-2 draw.
“He is a player of Aston Villa and England and has only improved,” Solskjaer said (via manutd.com).
“I don’t want to say too much about other teams’ players but, of course, he’s a player we know we need to look out for.
“The goal he scored last season was a brilliant goal and we’ve faced him enough times to know it is going to be a difficult game.”
United’s previous match saw them beat Wolves 1-0 thanks to a late Marcus Rashford goal.