Manchester United star Juan Mata has admitted that disgruntled Red Devils fans deserve better between now and the end of the season, with the pressure now on to secure a top-four finish and FA Cup success to salvage another uninspiring campaign.
Louis van Gaal's lost for only the second time in 20 matches across all competitions against Swansea City last weekend, but try telling that to United fans fed up of a dour style of play that's failing to get the best out of a star-studded squad.
Mata is acutely aware that United fans have very high expectations but is adamant that they are more than capable of securing Champions League qualification, demanding that performances improve heading into the business end of the campaign.
Time to regroup for Van Gaal's under-fire troops
The Spanish international was asked for his thoughts on United's situation by Sky Sports News earlier today, while taking part in a club initiative at Swinton High School.
Mata responded strongly, insisting: "Obviously it's crucial for us to get into the top four at the end of the Premier League season. "There are still a lot of games to go, we are in a race to win the FA Cup so we will try to win it because it's been a long time since the club won it and it's something very important for us.
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Van Gaal is fast running out of excuses
"Right now we are facing a crucial moment in the Premier League, obviously the last 10 games are very important and we also have the FA Cup tie against Arsenal. It will be difficult but I think we have to do it because it is an important moment and we have to perform."
United's £37.1 million man is a prime example of top players falling below expectations this season, with the clever playmaker falling out of favour despite proving a consistent source of goals from midfield when picked.
Performances must improve
Saturday's 2-1 defeat at the Liberty Stadium was a further example of standards falling, with even Mata admitting that despite feeling the result was harsh the performance wasn't up to par.
"It's true that it wasn't a good game for us, although I think we played in their half and in the second period we were close to scoring the second goal," the £140,000-a-week star added.
"But we didn't and obviously when you play for Manchester United everyone is expecting the best from you, to play well and to win but obviously this is not very easy to do. We are trying to do it because the fans deserve something good."
Failure not an option
United are now in a congested five-team dogfight to finish in the top four, with failure simply not an option.
Van Gaal was effectively recruited to make sure the Red Devils weren't forced to deal with the disastrous consequences of two seasons outside the Champions League, but things have not gone according to plan.
The Dutchman was given a club-record £150m to spend last summer and must realise that finishing fifth or lower puts his future in doubt, along with his entire first-team squad.
Mata has made all the right noises today and comes across as a strong, affable character in the United dressing room, but individual performances improve both him and Van Gaal will be on the chopping block this summer.
United fans, do you think that Van Gaal should be sacked this summer if United fail to make the top four? Let us know by having your say in the comment box below!
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