Evra eyes United show at Stoke
Patrice Evra has urged Manchester United to prove they are England's finest at Stoke on Sunday.
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Even Roberto Mancini has admitted Manchester City's derby triumph at Old Trafford on Monday night will not affect the outcome of the Premier League title race.
With a 12-point lead and just seven games remaining, the statistics bear out Mancini's words.
Yet Evra is acutely aware City's 2-1 win will provide further ammunition to those who claim United are not as good as their apparently impregnable position would suggest.
There can be no way of regaining Mancunian bragging rights until the two sides next meet, which could come as soon as August's Community Shield at Wembley.
But Evra knows the doubters can be silenced by a return to the form that got United into such a big lead in the first place.
"I hear a lot of people talking about us, saying we didn't deserve the 15 point lead," said Evra.
"But if we are here it is because we are working hard and we deserve to win this title.
"We have to make sure we win at Stoke on Sunday and show we are the best team in England."
There has been a sense of irritation at United's soon-to-be-named Aon Training Complex that they have not been afforded the recognition expected of a team that won a record 25 games from their opening 30.
Sir Alex Ferguson mentioned it again last Thursday when he grumbled "it's a bit late to give credit now" during his pre-match media briefing.
Yet the credit has not come because fault is relatively easy to find.
Earlier in the season it concerned a porous defence and the inability of David de Gea to cope with the physicality of the English game.
After six straight clean sheets prior to last night, attention turned to Robin van Persie's barren streak, which now extends to 10 games.
If any opponent is perfect for Van Persie to rediscover his former prolific ways it is Stoke, against whom he has scored seven times in his last five appearances.
Yet these are short-term debates compared with the one erupting again around United's midfield, highlighted as an area of weakness by former Red Devils chief Ron Atkinson in his assessment of the game for MUTV.
"They need someone who can dominate central midfield the way Yaya Toure and David Silva did," said Atkinson.
"(Bastian) Schweinsteiger would be would be perfect, and he has a bad habit of passing to his own players."
Some may say Schweinsteiger lacks the pace to be effective in the Premier League and, at 28, the time may have passed when Ferguson would be interested in a player they are said to have held tentative talks about two-and-a-half years ago.
It is certainly true to say many United fans have had concerns about their side's depth of quality in central midfield for three years now.
Yet still no-one has come in, and only Tom Cleverley has emerged through youth ranks.
Cleverley was not called upon on Monday night, when Michael Carrick was paired alongside 39-year-old Ryan Giggs.
That Anderson did not even make it on to the bench suggests his time at Old Trafford is drawing to a close and it would be no surprise either if Paul Scholes headed into retirement permanently as he attempts a return after 10 weeks out with a knee injury.
With Darren Fletcher's future also uncertain, it is a situation Ferguson must surely look to address this summer, even if the options are not immediately obvious.
In the meantime, United must shrug off a hangover that seems to have lasted since that shattering Champions League exit to Real Madrid a month ago.
Since then, narrow victories over relegation-threatened Reading and Sunderland have been overshadowed by the loss of a two-goal lead against Chelsea in an FA Cup quarter-final tie won in a replay by the Londoners last week and now the City defeat.
Some kind of gloss is still required for the campaign therefore, which could be bad news for a Stoke outfit who have slithered to the edge of the relegation precipice.
"The most important thing is to win the title," said Evra.
"We are in a great position but we don't want to put pressure on ourselves.
"Nothing is going to be easy until the end of the season.
"Stoke is always a difficult place to go. We have to be ready for the fight."