MANCHESTER, United Kingdom, Feb 2 – Jose Mourinho effectively conceded the Premier League title to Manchester City on Friday, admitting that his Manchester United side are competing to be “first of the last” in the table.
United lost in midweek at Tottenham, allowing their local rivals to open up a commanding 15-point lead, with just 13 games remaining.
But Mourinho insisted that there is still plenty for his team to play for in the league this season, with second place and qualification for the Champions League his primary focus.
“It makes me feel that they are doing so, so well that they are not letting the others come close to that, as simple as that,” said Mourinho when asked how City’s dominance made him feel.
“With the number of points and improvement we have in relation to last season, in normal conditions the distance would be a distance that leaves the fight open.
“And, at the moment, the fight is open for second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth but it is practically closed for the first.”
However, the Portuguese insisted that falling short to Pep Guardiola’s rampant City, who have dropped just seven points all season, shouldn’t be classified as a failure.
“If you tell me all six want to be champion and only one will be champion and the other five fail, I think is too pragmatic a way to look at it because you can do positive work and not win the title,” added Mourinho.
“I cannot say that we are doing bad or Tottenham is doing bad or Chelsea is doing bad because the number of points we have are a very reasonable number of points.”
Mourinho was talking ahead of the home Premier League meeting with Huddersfield, where United will mark the 60th anniversary of the Munich air disaster that falls on Tuesday.
The United manager paid his respects to the tragedy that shaped his club’s history but insisted that it is also vital that they return to winning ways.
“It’s not because of this Munich disaster that the game becomes important for us,” he said. “The game is important because we need points to be the first of the last, we have to try to finish second.”
– Better than last season –
And Mourinho challenged his players to shrug off the after effects of defeat at Spurs to continue their upward curve in the league this season compared his debut campaign at United last year.
“We were first for a few weeks and then we were always second, I don’t remember us being fourth, fifth or sixth, we have been there since the beginning of the season, better than last season in every aspect – points, position, number of goals scored, conceded, better in everything.
“So we have to try to stay there and is not easy because there are very good teams. Chelsea is champions again, (had a) fantastic (transfer) market, Liverpool is a great team, Arsenal improved a lot in the market, Tottenham is a fantastic team and they are five points behind us.
“So we are doing quite well, with some negative moments, Wednesday was one. It is very important to do better than last season and try to win something, and, if not, do better.”
United look set to be without midfielder Marouane Fellaini for several weeks due to a knee injury, but Mourinho had more positive news on Eric Bailly and Zlatan Ibrahimovic who he hopes can both return before the end of the month.