Wednesday 20 September 2017

On fire Mourinho ignites United's challenge for title

'Mourinho can rarely be accused of underselling himself or his clubs' Photo: PA
'Mourinho can rarely be accused of underselling himself or his clubs' Photo: PA

Paul Wilson

José Mourinho is under a certain amount of pressure this season at Manchester United, albeit pressure he has brought on himself. At his previous clubs he has always managed to win the title in his second season and at his present one there is an expectation of something a little more dynamic than finishing sixth in the table and qualifying for the Champions League via their Europa League triumph.

Naturally, the manager denies it. In fact before today's opener at home to West Ham he even admitted to looking forward to the season with the quality he now has at his disposal. "The only thing I have to do is work every day like I always do, the only demand on me is the one I put on myself. I don't put any extra pressure on myself because I always give everything, then normally the results are a good consequence of that work.

"My dedication to my job is always at the maximum, even more now than when I started, and I believe at the end of the season we will see the results. With these players I am looking forward to the season with optimism, with enthusiasm, I can't wait for the Champions League to start and the chance to play the top clubs. I am on fire."

Mourinho can rarely be accused of underselling himself or his clubs, though even in combustible mode he still bore a message for his employers as well as the back pages, congratulating the United board on securing 75 per cent of the transfer targets he outlined early in the window. The point he is making is that the other 25 per cent of intended business remains to be completed. Mourinho requested four new players, United have bought him three.

Speculation that Danny Rose is the player still at large after United's expensive captures of Romelu Lukaku, Nemanja Matic and Victor Lindelof only intensified when the Tottenham full-back spoke of wanting to move back north, though Mourinho batted that subject away with a carefully phrased answer. "I think I should not comment because Mauricio [Pochettino] would not be happy if I comment, Mr Levy would not be happy if I comment and because I had nothing to do with that interview," the United manager said. "I just read it the same way that you did. Danny Rose is a Spurs player and it is not my problem at all."

What could turn out to be a problem for Mourinho is a lack of width and crossing ability in his present squad, something that a player such as Rose would rectify and provide a more reliable service from the wings for Lukaku. Given that the manager has frequently complained of a lack of balance in the side, and that it took £90m to prise Lukaku away from Everton ahead of Chelsea, it would not be the greatest surprise to see United spend big again before the end of the month if they are concerned about the striker becoming too isolated.

Manchester City have already outspent their neighbours and may not be finished either, though Mourinho believes all the top clubs are well-equipped to make a title challenge. "Buying good players is important, and generally the better squad win the titles, but money alone is not enough," he said. "I think Tottenham without any spending is equipped to win the title because they have a fantastic team, a fantastic manager and great stability. Arsenal and Liverpool the same, Chelsea are the champions, it is hard to say which one is better prepared. I just think the competition can be better than ever but I think you will notice a difference in quality with United this season. I think we are ready. We are going to try to win the title."

One of the reasons Mourinho feels that way is the solidity Matic will bring in front of the back four. The Serbia midfielder was one of the mainstays of the Chelsea side that won the title in Mourinho's second spell at Stamford Bridge and the manager admitted that until a phone call informed him otherwise, he thought there was no point even trying to wrest him from the champions.

"I could see when I first came to United that we needed a Matic-type player," he said. "But there are not many around and I do not like to go after players where it is an impossible mission. Then I heard that he wanted to join United and could make it happen.

"I am very happy to have him because he is one of those players with no question marks. He doesn't need time to adapt. He's not a young guy coming from another country. He's just turned 29 and he has five years' Premier League experience. He gives me something I really like which is consistency. He is a fantastic signing for us because I can trust him to perform at a high level."

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