MANCHESTER, December 4- Juan Mata expects Manchester United to rediscover the winning formula as they aim to step up their Premier League title challenge against West Ham on Saturday.
Louis van Gaal’s side have lost just one of their last 15 games and could return to the top of the table if they beat the Hammers at Old Trafford and other results go their way.
Yet the perception remains that all is not entirely well at United, with their recent run containing too few victories, while entertaining play has been in short supply.
Van Gaal’s methods have been called into question by pundits, supporters and, if various media reports are accurate, some players.
The United manager remains a firm believer in his footballing ‘philosophy’ and the defensive improvements made by the Dutchman have given his club the meanest defence in the league with just 10 goals conceded.
Only one of those has come at Old Trafford and United will be expected to extend their unbeaten home run against a faltering West Ham team.
But Spanish midfielder Mata knows van Gaal’s men needs to capitalise on a promising run of league fixtures before Christmas, which also include games against strugglers Bournemouth and Norwich, and get out of the habit of drawing games following six draws in their last nine games.
“The last two draws haven’t been good for us,” Mata said.
“We don’t like draws and we want to go back to the victories. They (West Ham) have a very good manager and some of their players are very talented, but our aim is to get the three points.”
– Confident –
United were held to a draw by Leicester last weekend and before that could only draw 0-0 with PSV Eindhoven, a result which means they must now win away to Wolfsburg in the Champions League next Tuesday to progress to the last 16.
“It’s not an easy task but we are confident that we can make it to the next stage. The Champions League is a very important competition for us and we want to remain in it,” Mata said.
“But the next game is the most important one right now against West Ham. They have had a good start this season and have won more games away than at home. I hope we can get a win, which would be really important.”
Marouane Fellaini may earn a recall to bolster United’s attacking options after scoring for the club’s under-21 side this week, but van Gaal will be without defender Marcos Rojo, who suffered a dislocated shoulder in training.
West Ham’s season has stalled after a run that has brought just two points from a possible 12 and seen the club drop to eighth place.
Last Sunday’s home draw with West Bromwich Albion was frustrating and came at the cost of a thigh injury to striker Diafra Sakho, who could now be out for up to two months.
With Dimitri Payet, the club’s outstanding player during the opening weeks of the season, is also out with a long-term injury and Enner Valencia not yet ready to return up front after an ankle problem, Bilic’s squad is being stretched.
“In terms of the quantity of injuries we are not bad, but unfortunately those three injuries have happened to our key players, especially on the offensive side of our game. Payet, Sakho, Valencia, it’s a big blow to us,” Bilic said.
Bilic will choose between Andy Carroll, Nikica Jelavic and Michail Antonio to fill his forward positions and is confident Carroll is nearing a return to his best after a long lay-off.
“Andy is trying hard in training, and has played well in the few games that he has played for us,” Bilic added.
“So far he has showed his class more as an impact player, to come on in the last 20 mins or half an hour and lift our game.”