LONDON • Pep Guardiola has backed rival Jose Mourinho to lead Manchester United back to the Champions League but effectively wrote off the Red Devils' chances of lifting the Premier League title this season.
United are sixth in the table - 13 points behind leaders Chelsea and nine points off the fourth and final Champions League qualification place occupied by Guardiola's Manchester City - after Sunday's 1-1 draw at Everton.
It was a joint-league-leading sixth stalemate for United, following draws against Stoke City, Liverpool, Burnley, Arsenal and West Ham.
While Guardiola admitted that United were unfortunate to get off to their poorest start to a season in 26 years, the Spaniard stopped just short of ruling United out as title contenders.
"I saw the games against Stoke and Burnley, and other ones at Old Trafford," he told his pre-match news conference ahead of this morning's (Singapore time) Champions League clash at Celtic.
Thirteen points is a long distance, especially when one team is winning games with the quality of Chelsea. So it is not easy. But to be in the first four? Of course.
PEP GUARDIOLA, Manchester City manager, looking at United's chances.
"They deserved by far to win the games but football is like this.
"United have the quality, the history, the manager and the players to be there.
"Of course, 13 points is a long distance, especially when one team is winning games with the quality of Chelsea. So it is not easy.
"But to be in the first four?
No team have ever overcome a 13-point deficit to win the Premier League, although United came from 12 points behind against Newcastle United in 1996 to lift the crown.
Despite a widening gap between United and the pace-setters after just 14 games, United's powerbrokers will stay patient with Mourinho, reported The Telegraph.
According to the British newspaper, the United hierarchy agree with the Portuguese that the table does not accurately reflect the team's improvements.
Mourinho has tried a different approach at United than he has at previous clubs - playing on the front foot, dominating possession and creating chance after chance - in a bid to honour United's traditions of attacking football.
The stultifying brand of football with which United were associated under Mourinho's predecessor, Louis van Gaal, was a key factor that led to the Dutchman's sacking in May.
"The club have been encouraged by what they're seeing in performance terms," a source told The Telegraph. "There's confidence (that) results will improve as that performance level continues to improve."
THE TIMES, LONDON