Defender Phil Jones says Manchester United are progressing as a team, but need to improve even further if they are to catch Manchester City next season.
Jose Mourinho’s side will finish the Premier League season in second place behind their local rivals, with a 19-point gap currently separating the sides.
It has been another season filled with scrutiny on United, but Jones believes the squad are improving and there will not be such a gulf between themselves and Pep Guardiola’s side next term.
“We definitely feel like we’re progressing. We’ve got a great squad with a lot of quality and we’ve got a mixture of youth and experience now. I really don’t feel like we’re a million miles away,” he told Sky Sports News.
“I know there’s a lot of speculation and people would disagree with that, but I see these lads every day in training and in games and I know the characters inside and out so I think we’re heading in the right direction.
“It’s not been the ideal season. We’ve not accumulated as many points as we’d like, we’ve dropped points we shouldn’t have and it has ultimately led to the gap between us and Man City.
“There’s no bitterness about it, they’ve done very well and they deserve to be champions. We’ve finished the next best in second place and we’ve got a final to look forward to as well.
“I think in times in games this season, we’ve been in winning positions and we’ve let leads slip or conceded sloppy goals in the last minute and ultimately that’s what has cost us too many points.
“The gap between us and Man City is too big. It shouldn’t be that way, and we need to rectify that next season.
“We need to make sure we pick up as many points as possible and this season, we’ve done that at times and played good football and then we’ve had our little dips.
“When we’ve had our dips, going back to the seasons when we’ve won the league, we’ve still managed to pick up the points but I think this season, we’ve not been able to do that. But I still think we’re heading in the right direction and progressing as a team.”
West Ham 0-0 Manchester Utd
United face Watford in their final game of the Premier League season on Sunday, which will also see Michael Carrick play his final game at Old Trafford before retirement, and Jones paid tribute to the midfielder.
“It will be nice to give Michael Carrick a good send off. He’s been an unbelievable player for us over the years and I think people forget how many trophies he has won at the club,” Jones added.
“He is a hugely, hugely talented player and will be missed, but he joins the coaching staff and I’m sure he’ll add some advice to the young lads coming through.
“He’s already stamped his authority on the squad. He’s very influential on the field, he speaks to the young lads and gives great advice to the players on and off the field when they need it. He’s a huge character for us.
“You need honesty sometimes, you can hide away from the honesty a bit but he’s as honest as they come, he’s very humble and he’s a great man.”
While there are two games of the domestic season left to play – including the FA Cup final against Chelsea – there is the small matter of the World Cup to come and Jones is hoping to be included in Gareth Southgate’s squad.
“It would be a great experience to go and to be in the squad. Hopefully I’ve done enough but the decision is with Gareth and hopefully I’ll be there,” said the defender, who has 24 England caps.
“Every game is an opportunity to impress, not just for our manager but the England manager as well so any game I play between now and the end of the season, I’ll be hoping to impress and do well.
“Any time you put on an England shirt, it’s a huge, huge honour. I know it’s very cliché to say and a lot of people do, but for me personally, you dream of playing for England as a kid when you’re kicking the ball around in the park. To put an England shirt on in the Euros or the World Cup is the pinnacle of anyone’s career.”