Jose Mourinho has conceded defeat in Manchester United’s unlikely pursuit of rivals Manchester City in the Premier League title race, saying the Red Devils are in a battle to be “first of the last”.
Pep Guardiola’s City have surged clear at the top of the table with a free-flowing brand of football, and their lead was extended to 15 points following United’s dismal 2-0 defeat at Tottenham on Wednesday.
It was already a tall order for United to reel in their rivals and, despite the season only just entering February, Mourinho cannot foresee a scenario in which City relinquish their grasp on the title.
Ahead of Saturday’s game against Huddersfield Town, Mourinho told a pre-match news conference: “The game is important for us because we need points to be the first of the last, we have to try to finish second.
“We are in this position all season, we were first for a few weeks then I think we were always second, I think maybe third but never fourth, fifth, sixth, better than last season in every aspect.
“Better in points, position, goals scored, goals conceded, so we have to try to stay there and it’s not easy because there are very good teams.
“Chelsea is a champion, again a fantastic 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.
“We are doing quite well until now, with some negative moments, Wednesday one of them, but we’re doing better than last season and we try to win something this season and if not be better than last season.”
Mourinho does not believe that City’s dominance is a sign the chasing back are performing badly.
“It makes me feel they are doing so, so well that they are not letting others come close to them,” he said. “With the points we have and improvement we have to last season, in normal conditions it would be a distance that leaves the fight open.
“At the moment the fight is open for third, second, fourth, sixth but practically closed for first. We can’t say we’re doing bad, Tottenham is doing bad, Chelsea is bad, because the points we have is a reasonable amount of points.
“But City started strong, kept being strong with results, kept winning matches they didn’t deserve – I give credit for that, I’m not taking credit.
“If you tell me all six want to be champion and only one will be champion so others they fail, I think it’s too pragmatic a way to look at it because you can do positive work and not win the title.”
United will pay their respects to the victims of the Munich air disaster on Saturday, to mark the 60th anniversary of the tragedy.
“I think tomorrow is an amazing day to show the respect, the passion for the club, respect for them [the Munich victims], respect for the families,” said Mourinho.
“I think it’s a day to play well, to bring happiness, to bring joy, for people to be together, enjoying their colours and at the same time showing all the respect to the people and their families.”