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Manchester United must fill the Paul Pogba void, says Juan Mata

Manchester United attacking midfielder Juan Mata has suggested that his teammates find a way to fill the void which will be left by the absence of Paul Pogba in the Manchester derby, and the following two matches. The Frenchman has started his three-match suspension for the red card he received after a foul on Hector Bellerin in the 3-1 victory over Arsenal at the Emirates on Sunday. The Spanish midfielder has stated that the squad has the depth, discipline, and ability to overcome the absence of Pogba.

Manchester City may have t deal with the loss of David Silva in the derby this weekend if what Pep Guardiola has said is true, that the player is a doubt for the match at Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon. Mata even laughed at the suggestions of mind games, stating; “we know about that” when asked about Silva. But talking about the absence of Pogba, Mata did not try to disguise the loss the team will have had with the player being ruled out of the biggest match for the club this season so far. Mata, reported by Sky Sports, said:

“Yeah, big miss. He’s a fantastic player.

“He did a fantastic assist [on Tuesday night]. He’s a very complete midfielder, he can do all things. He will be a big miss but another player will play and try his best.

“I think we have a good squad and have good players to replace any other player. Hopefully, we can win for him.”

Pogba himself has stated that United need to win the match with City sitting eight points clear at the top of the Premier League after 15 matches. Taking that deficit back down to five points will open things up a little, especially with another derby to be played, albeit at the Etihad in 2018. Mata, after seeing his side lose in this fixture last season, which incidentally is the last time United lost a match at the Theatre of Dreams, spoke of his desperation to win the derby, saying:

“We are doing what we have to do. We would love to be first in the table right now but I think we are doing lots of good things.

“Now, especially on Sunday and during Christmas time, which we all know how difficult it is to win every single game, we need to keep that pace if we want to be in a position to challenge for the title at the end of the season. Hopefully, we can do it.”

Pep Guardiola’s side are currently the bookies favourite to win the Premier League this season with some pundits suggesting the side had already won the title. After 15 matches being played in the league, this is all a bit premature as it is not as if any club has clawed back a much bigger deficit in the past – Manchester United overcoming Newcastle United’s lead in the 1990’s for instance. Eight points are nothing compared to that and it happened much later in the season. There are 24 matches still to play, including the derby, anything can happen yet. It is not even Christmas yet.

Mata spoke about the bigger picture, the fact that time is on the side of any challenger to stir something which would resemble a title charge. Yes, City have had the better start this season, and up until their defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday, they looked to be nearing a record of 30 matches undefeated. United have their own record to break now, making it 41 matches unbeaten at the Theatre of Dreams, City being the last team to win there. Mata said:

“Most [of the pundits] have played football and they know how football can change,” Mata said.

“I remember a few seasons ago when United were ahead of City and then they won by goals. It’s a crazy league and it’s too early to think that it’s finished.

“From City, they will tell you the same.”

Right now, it will all be down to whichever team takes the advantage over the other. United are playing at home. they are a confident team this season, scoring more goals than last season, winning more matches, drawing fewer and that will all matter when the two sides come head to head. Jose Mourinho will want to beat Pep Guardiola and the Catalan manager will want to beat the Portuguese manager. It could be a classic derby, or it could be one of those matches which is decided by one goal. United, without Pogba, cannot use the Frenchman as an excuse.

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