Harry Maguire knows Manchester United’s unacceptable Premier League season will end without Champions League qualification unless they respond to the chastening loss at Manchester City with a relentless winning run.
After finishing second last term and losing the Europa League final on penalties, the summer acquisitions of Raphael Varane, Jadon Sancho and Cristiano Ronaldo brought renewed hope to Old Trafford.
But this season is turning out to be one to forget, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer exiting in November and Sunday’s 4-1 loss at City leaving Ralf Rangnick’s Red Devils an eye-watering 22 points behind the Premier League leaders.
United have dropped to fifth and while they lie just a point behind fourth-placed Arsenal, Mikel Arteta’s men have three games in hand and captain Maguire is under no illusion about their uphill battle.
“We know it’s an important end to the season that we’ve got and a run of games where we’ve got to know that we’ve got to go on a run, and we’ve got to go and pick up win after win after win,” the centre-back said.
“We’re more than capable of doing it but we’ve got to show it on the pitch.
“We’ve got to show it every game that we go into, take each game as it comes, a big game against Tottenham next so we’ve got to make sure that we focus this week.
“I know it’s going to be a disappointing couple of days, it always is when you lose one of these big games, big emotional games. The lads are devastated.
“We’ll obviously analyse the game, we’ll look at areas that we can improve on but when we come to Tottenham we’ve got to make sure that we’re ready to give a performance and ready to get the result that we need.”
Saturday evening’s clash with fellow top-four rivals Spurs is followed by the Champions League last-16 second leg against Atletico Madrid – matches that could see things unravel further for United.
“I mean, this season hasn’t been good enough on our behalf in the Premier League at all,” said Maguire, whose side drew the first leg against Atletico 1-1 in Spain.
“Obviously we’ve given (fans) nice moments, but not enough of them.
“We need to make sure that in the remaining games of the season – I know they’ll be right behind us because that’s what they do, that’s why they’re the best fans in the world – we’ve got to make sure we put a smile back on their face because I know it’s going to be hard for them this week.
“We’ve got to make sure that when we come to Tottenham next week we put a smile back on their faces with a victory.”
Spurs have been a Jekyll and Hyde side under Antonio Conte but will fancy their chances of an Old Trafford win given United’s meek loss at City.
Kevin De Bruyne goals either side of a Sancho leveller put Pep Guardiola’s side ahead at half-time, before the hosts enjoyed a second-half cakewalk in which Riyad Mahrez netted a brace.
“It’s a disappointing result for the players, for the club, for the fans, for everyone involved,” Maguire told MUTV.
“We come into these games full of emotion, we give everything, we work tirelessly in the preparation, we look forward to the games and we had great belief that we could come here and get a result.
“So, first and foremost, it’s very disappointing that we’ve come here and got the result that we did.
“The game was 50-50 first half, very disappointing to go in at 2-1 down. I felt like the game was probably edged towards ourselves and we could have gone in with a positive result.
“But 2-1 down and we could take the positives into the second half, and we come out and we haven’t performed in the second half.
“We haven’t done things that we did well in the first half and, for me, the main thing was when we had the ball we just gave it back to them far too cheap, far too easy.
“We weren’t clean enough with our passing and the moments where we did have chances to hurt them we weren’t clinical enough, we weren’t clean enough with the passing and the transitional moments in the game, especially in the second half.
“We gave away the ball far too easily and we know that they like to control the game through possession and they did that in the second half.”