Belfast Telegraph

Manchester United can challenge for league title, insists Matic

By Simon Peach

Nemanja Matic knows a thing or two about winning the Premier League and has already seen enough to be confident of a Manchester United title challenge this season.

United did not finish lower than third in the Premier League era under Sir Alex Ferguson, but since his retirement have ended seventh, fourth, fifth and sixth.

Jose Mourinho was in charge for the latter campaign and, despite securing Europa League, EFL Cup and Community Shield glory, along with Champions League qualification, knows they have to do better in the league.

Matic followed Victor Lindelof and Romelu Lukaku as part of the United manager's summer reinforcement drive, with the defensive midfielder arriving fresh from winning the title with Antonio Conte's Chelsea. The 29-year-old was also a key part of Mourinho's Blues when winning the league in 2014-15 and has seen enough in his short time at Old Trafford to believe this will be a successful season.

"We have to rest well because we have a very important game on Sunday against West Ham," Matic said.

"It's the start of the Premier League and it's very important for us. As you know the Premier League is the main target.

"There is a lot of games, it's a long season but I expect us to do well."

Matic was speaking after making his competitive United debut, playing the entirety of Tuesday's 2-1 UEFA Super Cup loss to Real Madrid despite having had only 45 pre-season minutes in red under his belt.

"I think we played everything so we don't lose this game," the Serbian said after a performance that thoroughly impressed Mourinho.

"We played against a very good side. Very experienced. They know how to play these games. We are not happy that we lost but did everything.

"We had an opportunity to equalise, Marcus (Rashford) had a good chance and didn't score, unluckily for us, but this is football."

Team-mate Ander Herrera  is also desperate to hit the ground running against West Ham.

"We have to accept Real deserve to be the winners," the Spaniard said. "But we can take a lot of good things from this game.

"The Premier League starts on Sunday, there is no time to be upset, we want to be contenders for the title and we want to fight for every title this season.

"Last season, we won three trophies which is very good, but we didn't fight for the Premier League.

"That's our aim for this season and we have a very good squad. We are going to play in four competitions and we want to fight for all of them.

"In every position, we have two very good players, so I am optimistic for this season and let's forget about Madrid.

"I know it's difficult because it's a European trophy and that's important for the club.

"But now the Premier League, then the Champions League will come, the FA Cup and the League Cup. We don't want to give away any competition.

"We are going to fight for all of them and we are going to improve."

Herrera says United simply came up short against the "best team in the world" - a philosophical stance that echoed his manager's post-match thoughts.

Now, though, the focus is on West Ham, a side bolstered by summer signings such as Marko Arnautovic, Joe Hart, Javier Hernandez and Pablo Zabaleta.

"We are ready and West Ham will be ready as well, because they have also played a pre-season and surely they are going to be fit as well," Herrera added.

"But we are playing at Old Trafford in front of our fans and we want to win the first game.

"We have to respect them because they have a very good team.

"This season, I think the transfer window has gone good for them.

"They are going to be difficult to beat. Now is our chance to fight for the Premier League and we have to do it as well."

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