Juan Mata: Leicester City praised by Manchester United midfielder

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Leicester success is a 'breath of fresh air' - Juan Mata

Manchester United midfielder Juan Mata says Leicester's unlikely march to the title is a "little bit of fresh air" blowing through the Premier League.

If Leicester defeat United at Old Trafford on Sunday they will secure a first top-flight championship in their 132-year history.

"They showed great character, commitment and passion," said Mata.

"They are really close to doing it. But hopefully it doesn't happen at Old Trafford. They can wait another week."

The Spain international added: "It is good for football in a way because it is a little bit of fresh air. But my wish is that we were winning the league."

Speaking to BBC Sport, Mata also discussed how United must win all four of their remaining league games to stand a chance of qualifying for the Champions League and revealed his disappointment at not competing for the title.

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Even if Leicester lose on Sunday, a seven-point advantage over nearest rivals Tottenham means they could still wrap up the title if Spurs lose to Chelsea on Monday night.

It is the kind of scenario Mata hoped he would be involved in when he joined the then-reigning champions in a £39.1m deal from Chelsea in January 2014.

United have not won a trophy since, finishing seventh and fourth in Mata's first two seasons. They sit fifth at present, five points off the top four and 17 behind Leicester.

"We did not do well enough to win the title," Mata said, who was speaking at the launch of a two-year spell as ambassador at global children's charity streetfootballworld.

"Leicester can make their dreams come true. In the beginning of the season you could be surprised but after that, when you see the way they play and the way they defend. They play like a team and get results.

"I really like Riyad Mahrez. He is playing the best football of his life. But it is not just about one player."

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Making the best of a bad season

In their second season under manager Louis van Gaal, United were expected to use their return to the Champions League as a launch pad towards competing for major honours again.

They briefly led the Premier League in November but a run of six games without a win ended their challenge, with Van Gaal pointing to a huge injury list.

Manchester City and Arsenal remain five points in front - having played a game more - even though United have won six of their last eight games.

"It has not been an easy season," said Mata. "Manchester United should not judge a season as successful solely because they have qualified for the Champions League.

"But you have to react to the reality."

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With Manchester City and Arsenal still to play each other, Mata says 12 points from United's final four games will be enough for the FA Cup finalists to claim a Champions League place.

And if they can beat Crystal Palace at Wembley on 21 May as well, he does not think the season would look so bad.

"If we don't win every game, we will be depending on the other teams too much," he said. "Also, the club hasn't won the FA Cup for a few years.

"If we won that very special trophy and finished third or fourth, maybe the season is not as bad as it looked before. Hopefully we could build from that."

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