Premier League preview: Chelsea v Manchester United
Chelsea midfielder Juan Mata believes Sunday’s English Premier League clash against Manchester United can define his club’s season.
Mata, who joined Chelsea for 23.5 million pounds from Valencia in the off-season, has been one of his side’s rare shining lights in a season in which they trail co-leaders Manchester City and United by 12 points.
And although Mata cast doubt on Chelsea’s ability to win the title, he feels that Sunday’s match can set up the second half of their season as they aim to secure an automatic qualification spot for the UEFA Champions League.
“You can never say anything is impossible in football,” Mata said.
“But at the moment the gap is too big between us and the Manchester clubs. There’s too many points. But we know we can still improve on the pitch.”
“We need to reduce the gap on Spurs but to do that we need to keep winning – just win, win and win.”
“That’s why the match with United is so important to us in terms of belief and morale – to beat the champions is very important and that’s the challenge for the whole squad. We are all very focused on this game.”
“United are also missing players and it is very important that we improve and show our best level on the pitch.”
Chelsea have lost just one of their last 11 matches in the Premier League, but draws with the likes of Wigan Athletic, Norwich City and Swansea City have cost them valuable points.
And they will not have it easy when they host a buoyant Manchester United at Stamford Bridge.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s side joined table-toppers City on 54 points after they beat Stoke 2-0 and City lost 1-0 at Everton on Tuesday.
Goal difference means City top the table but United have made a habit of storming home in the second half of the season.
The next month will be crucial in their title bid, with fixtures against Chelsea (fourth), Liverpool (sixth) and Tottenham (third) all on the agenda.
If United sort out their goalkeeping conundrum they will go a long way to winning the title, with David de Gea, Anders Lindegaard and Ben Amos all playing in goal for the club this season.
Amos played against Stoke and impressed but if De Gea has recovered from sickness he is likely to feature.
The likes of Wayne Rooney, Nani and Ashley Young (all ankle) could make a return for the match but Phil Jones has been ruled out.
John Terry (knee) and Frank Lampard (calf) could feature for Chelsea, who will miss Ashley Cole through suspension.