Nemanja Matic believes Manchester United are back in the title hunt after a win masterminded by Jose Mourinho – a manager he says has been unperturbed by mounting pressure and remains one of the world’s best.
United could ill afford the pressure to ratchet up any higher heading into the international break after chastening back-to-back defeats against Brighton and Tottenham.
Last Monday’s 3-0 loss to Spurs was the biggest home defeat of Mourinho’s managerial career, with eyebrows raised further by the United manager’s press conference antics.
But Matic knows there is a method to such bombast, helping to take the pressure away from his players ahead of a trip to Burnley that they won 2-0 on Sunday.
“He was very confident before the game he prepared the game in a very good way,” the defensive midfielder said.
“We knew where they could cause us problems with the long balls, that is why (Marouane) Fellaini played close to our defence, to stop the long balls and I think this performance shows that how we need to play football and we still can compete for the title.
“Of course, he knows what he is doing (in press conferences) for sure. You probably know that also. It’s good for us also.
“He is one of the best managers in the world, you know what he won in his career so that shows you everything.”
But things have gone awry at Old Trafford of late – not that Matic, a Premier
League winner under the Portuguese at Chelsea, has not seen any difference in Mourinho’s persona this season.
“No, no,” the United midfielder said. “I think he is dealing very well with the pressure.
“That is why he is here in Manchester United. I don’t see any difference.”
The win at Burnley means United sit on six points after four games – and a further six behind Liverpool, Chelsea and surprise package Watford.
Asked whether United can afford any further slip-ups considering the gap, Matic said: “Of course, but they (United’s rivals) also have to win all games, and I think that’s impossible.
“Someone needs to lose to drop the points and it’s still too early to say something.
“We will see in March where we are because in March you can see who is fighting for the title, who is not, who is fighting to be in the top 4. It is still too early.
“We have to start to win the games and I think we played well, like we played first half against Spurs, I think we did well.
“We won 2-0 but we also had many chances to score, but I am happy with 2-0.”
Meanwhile, Juan Mata told the club’s official website: “On a personal level, the afternoon didn’t start so well for me when I found out I wouldn’t be involved in the game.
“But two things helped me to feel better about myself – the result and the atmosphere from our fans in the stands.
“The passion, spirit, intensity and energy that comes from the fans is the engine that drives football.
“The club is special for a lot of reasons, and undoubtedly one of them is all of you out there. You struggle along with us when we lose and celebrate with us when we win, just like yesterday.”
Fellow United midfielder Marouane Fellaini added: “We have the quality (to win the title), that’s for sure. We have to stick together and play like we did last week in the first half.
“OK, the second half was bad but we have to keep this spirit and think about every game and be positive. I think when we play positive football we do well.
“The spirit was great. Everybody wanted to win. The challenges, the 50-50 balls, everyone wanted to win them, the second balls, too. The spirit is there.”
Fellaini was one of three changes at Burnley and Mourinho said the imposing midfielder played a “fundamental” role.
“I know what I have to do,” the Belgian added. “I have certain experience, 10 years in the Premier League.
“When he gives me a chance I try to give everything. The whole team played well today and that’s the most important thing.”