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Prove your worth, Mata tells United

Juan Mata (centre) mobbed by teammates after scoring against Stoke City. PHOTO/File
Juan Mata (centre) mobbed by teammates after scoring against Stoke City. PHOTO/File

LIVERPOOL, October 17- Juan Mata has called on his Manchester United team-mates to conquer a red-hot October schedule that will have a major bearing on their hopes of winning the Premier League.

United have not hit peak form consistently this season and yet sit just two points off the top of the Premier League ahead of Saturday’s tricky trip to Everton.

They might have gone into the international break as leaders had they not collapsed to a 3-0 defeat at Arsenal in their last match, a performance described by their baffled manager Louis van Gaal as their worst since he took charge at the club in July 2014.

For van Gaal, that Arsenal loss was the start of a testing run of fixtures that continues at Goodison Park.

His team face a long trip to Russia to face CSKA Moscow in the Champions League on Wednesday, then leaders Manchester City visit Old Trafford next Sunday before United travel to in-form Crystal Palace.

Van Gaal has a number of injury concerns — most notably with his captain Wayne Rooney, who sat out England’s wins over Estonia and Lithuania because of an ankle problem.

Bastian Schweinsteiger suffered a thigh injury in training while on international duty with Germany and will be assessed, as will fellow midfielder Michael Carrick who, like Rooney, missed both England matches during the international break.

Defender Marcos Rojo withdrew from the Argentina squad for recent World Cup qualifiers against Ecuador and Paraguay with the hamstring trouble that has kept him out of United’s last four matches.

Centre-back Paddy McNair will definitely be unavailable, having only just been released from a Helsinki hospital, where he spent three nights after rupturing his liver during Northern Ireland’s 1-1 draw in Finland last Sunday.

Spanish midfielder Mata, though, feels United will have underlined their title credentials if they can cope with the tests that lie ahead.

“We have to get ready for a few games that are going to be tough and thrilling,” Mata said.

“October is meant to be a very difficult month and we must be ready for it.”

– No fear – 

Everton fans could have been forgiven for fearing the worst when they saw their club’s opening 10 Premier League fixtures -– with eight of those games against last season’s top eight.

Yet Roberto Martinez’s side are seventh and have been beaten just once so far, by leaders Manchester City, and have secured impressive victories over Southampton and Chelsea in the process.

Martinez sees no reason to fear a United side who have suffered defeat on their last three visits to Goodison Park.

“We should push ourselves at Goodison and use the special atmosphere that we have at home to help us,” Martinez said.

The manager is helped by the fact that a number of key players are close to returning from injury.

Centre-back John Stones, who has not played since suffering a knee injury during a 2-1 League Cup third-round victory at Reading on September 22, is back in full training.

So too are midfielders Tom Cleverley and Steven Pienaar.

Cleverley has recovered from an ankle problem suffered against Tottenham in late August, while Pienaar is over a hamstring injury sustained in pre-season.

Everton are also bolstered by the continuing impressive form of midfielder Ross Barkley, who performed well in both of England’s Euro 2016 qualifiers during the international break, scoring in a 3-0 victory over Lithuania on Monday.

“What is clear is that he is a sensational prospect,” Martinez said.

“I’m a bit surprised by the hype that has developed because of the two performances for England, as we’ve seen Ross hit those levels since the first day of the season.”