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Tuesday 21 November 2017

Matic: United need to Stoke up title desire

Midfielder insists Reds must turn draws into wins to claim trophy

Manchester United midfielder Nemanja Matic battles for the ball with Stoke’s Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting on Saturday. Photo: REUTERS
Manchester United midfielder Nemanja Matic battles for the ball with Stoke’s Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting on Saturday. Photo: REUTERS

Nemanja Matic knows Manchester United will need to win at places like Stoke if they are to become Premier League champions.

Jose Mourinho's men started the league campaign with three comprehensive victories but found life hard on the short trip to the bet365 Stadium on Saturday and had to settle for a point in a 2-2 draw. 

Maxim Choupo-Moting put Mark Hughes' men ahead against the run of play late in the first half, only for a Paul Pogba header to go in off Marcus Rashford just before the break. 

Romelu Lukaku put United ahead early in the second half only for Choupo-Moting's second to earn Stoke a creditable draw - a result that frustrates Matic, part of the Chelsea side which won the title last season. 

"It was a tough gamet," the defensive midfielder said. 

"To be honest, it's always a tough game when you come to this stadium. Stoke are a good team, so it was difficult, but we managed to get a point. 

"If we want to be champions, we have to win games like this because in these games, if you win, you are champion. 

Spirit

"We have to know against teams like this you have to have a little bit more, you have to be concentrated and of course we're not happy with a point. 

"It's always important if you can come from behind, and I think we showed spirit. We had the lead in the second half but they scored a goal from the corner kick. We didn't take some chances at the other end, so we could have won the game. 

"It's always important to be at the top of the table if you can. I'm happy that we are still there, and we'll continue to work hard to stay there until the end of the season." 

Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting scores his and Stoke’s second goal of the Premier League draw with Manchester United at the Bet365 Stadium on Saturday. Photo: PA
Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting scores his and Stoke’s second goal of the Premier League draw with Manchester United at the Bet365 Stadium on Saturday. Photo: PA

United's focus now turns to tomorrow evening's Champions League opener against Basel, whereas Stoke have time to work ahead of Saturday's Premier League trip to Newcastle. 

Hughes' side have started the season solidly, with some smart summer transfer business bolstering the squad. 

Former Schalke forward Choupo-Moting has slotted in seamlessly since his summer arrival and impressed in scoring his first Stoke goals. 

"Maxim has been absolutely fantastic since the moment he arrived here," Hughes said.

Meanwhile, Mourinho believes Manchester United failed to evolve under his predecessors David Moyes and Louis van Gaal, describing their tenures as an "empty period" for the club. 

United have struggled to replicate the success that saw them become the major force in the Premier League under Alex Ferguson, who guided the club to the last of their 20 top-flight titles four years ago. 

Ferguson's successor Moyes was sacked after 10 months in charge while early promise under Van Gaal fizzled out, even though the Dutchman ended his reign by winning the FA Cup. 

Mourinho won two trophies in his maiden season at Old Trafford - including the Europa League which ensured United would play in the Champions League this term. 

Success

But the former Chelsea and Real Madrid manager believes he inherited a side that were burdened by past successes. 

He said: "There was an evolution in the other clubs; there was no evolution in this club. In all the areas that make a team successful I think we stopped in time.  

"That was quite an empty period in the club with no evolution in areas that are important. It was the weight of the past on the shoulders of the players, managers, even boards, even probably owners, because when you are used to win and win and win, and suddenly you stop, it's like a heavy burden. 

"Today, we have better working conditions, a better medical department, a better analysis department, a better scouting department, a better media department, and in many cases we did it without changing the people, which is quite important." 

Mourinho has added Romelu Lukaku and Nemanja Matic, two players he worked with at Chelsea, to his squad this summer. 

While Lukaku left Stamford Bridge for Everton early on in Mourinho's second spell in charge, the Portuguese said: "Lukaku was my player as a kid. 

"He left (Chelsea) because he was thinking he deserves more opportunity, but he's such a good guy that during these years we were in close contact with a good relationship. So I knew he was an intelligent guy with a positive attitude." 

On Matic, Mourinho added: "I cannot say that I had better guys than him in my career."

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