Manchester City can secure the Premier League crown by beating their bitter rivals, Manchester City on Saturday evening, and Jose Mourinho has claimed that the chance to delay City wrapping up the Premier League title offers no extra motivation for Manchester United heading into the derby.
Victory at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday evening would see Pep Guardiola’s swashbuckling side clinch the title with more games to spare than any other side in English top-flight history.
That would be some response to the shock 3-0 Champions League quarter-final first-leg loss at Liverpool and see City grab what captain Vincent Kompany has called a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to win the title at home to United.
It would be a sickening outcome for all connected to United, but Mourinho says boosting their second-place hopes rather than delaying City’s title party is the driver for him.
“My motivation is to finish second,” the United boss said. “I still have the motivation of finishing top four because 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.
“That in practical terms, and next season especially, to finish second, third or fourth is exactly the same because you don’t win the title but qualify directly for the Champions League group phase.
“But I prefer to finish third than fourth, and I prefer to finish second than third. And because we are in the second position for many, many, many, many months, obviously it is our objective to fight for that and for that we need points.
“My objective for tomorrow is to try to have points that can help us to finish second.”
It was the longest answer in Mourinho’s pre-match press conference, with the answers becoming increasingly curt as his reticence to speak about City became clear.
“It’s not for me to say that, it’s for you to say that,” he said when asked how good Guardiola’s side have been this season.
“But obviously you see the number of points that we have, and it is easy to go to the books and to understand 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 (side in) second to be fighting for the title, which we are not in this moment.”
Asked whether City’s Champions League first-leg loss poses different questions for United, he simply said “no” – as he did when asked if it impacted his side at all.
Mourinho was similarly brusque when asked what it takes for a great team to be consistent in the Premier League and questions relating to the Liverpool result, saying he is “not a pundit”.
The United boss was, though, confident his side possesses the attacking options to hurt City.
Alexis Sanchez is among those options and a former Barcelona player under Guardiola, who had attempted to bring him to the Etihad Stadium.
The signing of Alexis Sanchez was seen as a statement of intent by Manchester United
But being asked if getting the Chilean ahead of City proves United are equal in terms of recruiting players and being as competitive in the market as them appeared to irk Mourinho.
“Are we? That’s your opinion,” he said. “Did they spend money in January? Did they? So…”
Put to him that United got to Sanchez before City, he retorted: “Do you know that? Can you confirm that?
“I don’t know, I have no idea if they were interested or not, they were trying or not. I’ve no idea.”