Football

Mourinho following Fergie's lead to wrest back title

Man United manager concedes defeat in title race, eyes glorious run from next season

Jose Mourinho is using illustrious predecessor Sir Alex Ferguson as inspiration to turn the balance in power from English Premier League champions-elect Manchester City to his Manchester United side next season.

On Friday night, Mourinho all but conceded this season’s title to Pep Guardiola’s side for the first time, after United’s loss at Tottenham in midweek allowed City to open up a 15-point gap at the top.

City are well on course to set a new record for a title-winning points margin – currently held by Ferguson’s United team in 1999/2000 that won the league by 18 points – and have left Mourinho confessing that his side are simply playing to be “first of the last” over the remainder of the season.

But Mourinho, who won three EPL titles in two spells as Chelsea manager, has enjoyed a successful start to 2018 himself, stealing Alexis Sanchez away from City after he left Arsenal and also extending his own contract to 2020.

“I always remember when Sir Alex said in 2005-06, when we won the second title with Chelsea, ‘We need to improve a lot because they have raised the bar to such a level. They won two titles in a row,’” said Mourinho.

“The second title was easier than the first and then the biggest manager in the Premier League said Man United needed to improve a lot. That was the click for the improvement of the team.”

And Mourinho wants United’s improvement to begin with the visit of Huddersfield on Saturday as the Red Devils seek to bounce back and ensure a top-four finish.

“In 06-07, Man United won the title back. It has to be like that. That is why every match until the end of the season is an important match for us.

“It is not just about the points and finishing in the top four, which is important. Try to finish second. Try to play the best we can and improve the players individually the best we can and be the best possible team at the end of the season.

“Then we must try to start next season in a good way, like we did this season, but try to be consistent and try not to lose points like we did this season in some matches where we shouldn’t.” 

Man City manager Pep Guardiola, however, insists that the title race is not over yet, despite his rivals already throwing in the towel.

He said: “Not yet. There are 13 games, 39 points to play (for), we have a 15-point lead so it’s not over.

“We have an amazing run of tough games to play, for example at Burnley.

“Everybody knows here in England how complicated it is playing in Burnley, and after we have to go to Stoke and Goodison Park. We have games against Arsenal, Tottenham, United, Chelsea...it’s definitely not over.”

No problem with Pogba 

Meanwhile, Mourinho has played down any suggestion that he was unhappy with his club’s record signing Paul Pogba during the midweek defeat at Tottenham, with the United manager substituting the French international after barely an hour.

The coach was also seen in animated discussion with his star, although Mourinho insisted Pogba’s removal was purely a tactical decision.

“In the second-half, I decided to make a change and bring (Marouane) Fellaini with different qualities than him, to try to be stronger in midfield with Fellaini and (Nemanja) Matic because I wanted Alexis to play as a second striker with (Romelu) Lukaku.

“It was just a tactical decision but I lost Fellaini too after a few minutes.

“Paul is a young player, below 25, of course he has some things to improve. But it is not (only) Paul, it is every player. Every player has a chance to improve until the end of his career, especially the ones below 26, 27. They always have areas to improve.”

Fellaini’s injury at Wembley could not have come at a worrying time for the Belgian international, who is out of contract with United this summer and has stalled on signing a new contract at Old Trafford.

“I told him yesterday, sign the contract and shut up,” joked Mourinho.

“I told him, don’t gamble too much. Sign the contract before you know the extent of the injury.”

Mourinho has yet to reveal the full extent of Fellaini’s injury although the United manager expects him to be out for weeks. – AFP

Manchester UnitedJose Mourinho