SKOPJE (Macedonia) • Jose Mourinho insisted that Manchester United had emerged from their trip to Skopje for the Uefa Super Cup reinforced, despite the scoreline flattering them in a 2-1 defeat by Zinedine Zidane's Real Madrid.
The United manager had expected his side to struggle against the European champions and they could have conceded more than just the goals scored by Casemiro and Isco.
Casemiro hit the bar at the Philip II Arena with Tuesday's game still goalless, and Gareth Bale also struck the frame of the goal in the second half.
But on a sweltering night in the Macedonian capital, last season's Europa League winners improved in the final stages after Romelu Lukaku reduced the deficit, and substitute Marcus Rashford almost equalised late on.
"I always say the Champions League is one thing and the Europa League is another, and the Champions League winner obviously has a different potential," said former Real coach Mourinho, whose team are back in Europe's elite club competition this season.
"So for us to come here and do the positive things we did, I think we have to keep that positive feeling into the new season, and into the Champions League in September.
"I think this Super Cup was a great experience for us."
The number of times Jose Mourinho has beaten Real Madrid in five competitive matches.
He also complained Casemiro's opener was offside. However, it was difficult to adjudge if the Brazilian's half-volley finish should have been chalked off as Chris Smalling may have played him onside.
"We did well. We lost 2-1 which shows the result was (tight) and one of the goals was offside, so with a good video replay system, it would be 1-1 and extra-time," Mourinho said.
"We were playing against a team full of fantastic players and we fought for the result until the end."
Yet United's starting XI cost €417 million (S$667 million), compared to Real's €273 million.
For all his success in the game, Mourinho has never won the Super Cup, while Zidane has now won the trophy for two years running.
Real have lifted the Super Cup on four separate occasions, but what is really striking is the success enjoyed by Zidane in his time as coach. This was his sixth trophy since being appointed in January last year, just 19 months ago.
"There were big celebrations in the dressing room, we don't get tired of winning," said the Frenchman after his side became the first team to retain the trophy since AC Milan in 1990.
He described Real's performance as "almost perfect" and added: "I don't know if we can play any better, but we will try. We know that we have difficult opponents, with another one coming on Sunday. But our ambition is to keep getting better."
Real face Barcelona in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup this Sunday, and Cristiano Ronaldo will hope to play a key role in that game after making a brief appearance from the bench against United.
Following what was his third Super Cup defeat as a manager, Mourinho gave his loser's medal to a child in the crowd.
"For the kid, it is something he will never forget," said the Portuguese. "For me, medals don't mean much when I win.
"Imagine how much they mean when I lose."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN