Manchester United midfielder Juan Mata says it is "more difficult" than ever to break into the Premier League's top four.
United are currently 12th in the table after taking nine points from their first eight games, losing 2-0 to Newcastle in their most recent outing on Sunday.
Mata, who has won the FA Cup, EFL Cup and Europa League since joining United in 2014, says it has never been harder to finish in the league's top four.
"I think every club is improving and clubs like Leicester are recruiting really well and they have very good players that can take them to a different level," Mata told Sky Sports.
"Not long ago [Leicester] won the Premier League so they know what it takes to win.
"Football is more difficult now because every club is growing a lot so it's more competitive and every club is able to sign good players. So you have to be better every single season to try and reach your aims."
Not helping United's cause is an injury to midfielder Paul Pogba, who is currently in Dubai rehabbing his right foot having missed the last two games. Mata says any team would feel Pogba's absence given his talent and personality.
"Paul is genuinely a great guy," said the Spain international. "He's positive towards life and he's positive towards football.
"He's injured now but his attitude is good. As a midfielder, I've spoken many times about him, he's very complete as a player.
"For every club he would be very important, and for us he is very important."
One of the positives of United's season so far is the opportunities given to the young players in the squad, and Mata believes it is the job of the senior players to help develop their talent.
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"We have young players coming through and sometimes I see myself in [them]. I remember when I was at Valencia at 18 or 19 years old, I had some difficult moments because I didn't play a lot in the beginning but I had some older players helping me.
"That's what I think experienced players have to do with young players.
"They have, hopefully, many years to grow as a player and many games to enjoy their football at this club and we as older players we are here to help them."
Juan Mata spoke to Sky Sports at the launch of his book: Suddenly a Footballer