Jose Mourinho said he will not hide from the obvious gulf between his side and champions-elect Manchester City ahead of Saturday’s eagerly anticipated derby meeting at the Etihad.
Victory for Pep Guardiola’s side would seal the Spaniard’s first Premier League title after a season of dominance over their rivals.
It would open up a 19-point gap between the two Manchester clubs and leave City on course to set a new record for the largest ever title-winning margin, currently held by United’s 1999-2000 team, who won the league by 18 points.
Mourinho was uncharacteristically taciturn ahead of the game, refusing to discuss a number of topics, although he did confess that he will not try and talk down City’s obvious superiority in the league table.
“My motivation is to finish second,” he told reporters on Friday. “I still have the motivation of finishing top four, mathematically it is not done. It is a good distance but not done mathematically.
“So that’s the first objective but after that I don’t hide. In practical terms and to continue into next season especially, to finish second, third or fourth is exactly the same — you don’t win the title but qualify for the Champions League group stage.
“But I prefer to finish third to fourth and I prefer second to third. We have been second for many, many months, it is our objective to fight for that and for that we need points.”
Mourinho was in a sour mood ahead of the derby and refused even to discuss what he might have learned from Liverpool’s hugely impressive 3-0 victory over the champions-in-waiting in the Champions League this week.
“I’m not a pundit, I’m not going to comment on the game,” he said, also declining to comment on whether, or where, City deserve to be ranked among the all-time best Premier League teams.
“It is not for me to say that, it is for you to say that,” he said. “You see the number of points we have and it is easy to go to the record books and see that with the number of points we have, we would normally be in the fight for the title.
“But we are not because City have a very good number of points that makes it very, very difficult for the team that is second to fight for the title, which we are not in this moment.”
Mourinho did offer an interesting exchange when it was pointed out that he had beaten City this season — in the competition to sign striker Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal — and he was asked if that suggested United were more attractive to players than City.
“Are we?” replied Mourinho. “That’s your opinion. It’s your opinion…. I don’t know, I have no idea if they were interested (in Sanchez) or not. I’ve no idea.”