Football: Jose confident United will finish in top 4

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho applauds the fans at the end of the match between Manchester United and Newcastle United in Old Trafford, Manchester, on Oct 6, 2018.
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho applauds the fans at the end of the match between Manchester United and Newcastle United in Old Trafford, Manchester, on Oct 6, 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS

Manager expects team to challenge rivals by end of year; blames fixture list for struggles

MANCHESTER • If Jose Mourinho's job is under threat, he certainly did not show any anxiety at his pre-match press conference yesterday.

In fact, the Portuguese is confident that he will remain in the Old Trafford hot seat for the foreseeable future, as he expects Manchester United to fight their way into the top four by the end of the year.

The Red Devils, unbeaten in their last three Premier League games and lying eighth in the table, travel to sixth-placed Bournemouth today, nine points behind table-toppers Manchester City and Liverpool and five points off the final Champions League qualifying spot occupied by Arsenal.

Mourinho has refused to rule out a challenge for the title but said the priority is to climb into the top four.

"When you are outside the top four, I don't think you should speak about the title," he said yesterday.

"When you are (in the) top four, you can look up, see the distance, look to the fixtures, to the calendar, you can look to the situation at the moment, injuries, suspension, form and then you can feel it.

"But, in this moment, we are outside the top four so the point is now to get the points we need to try and be at the end of December in a better position than we are in now at this moment."

TOUGH SCHEDULE

In this part of the season, we play away against possibly the three biggest candidates for the title, in Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City, so the calendar was not nice to us.

JOSE MOURINHO, lamenting about United facing the title favourites early on.

The 55-year-old blamed their early-season struggles on an unkind fixture list, pointing out that his team have been hindered by a series of difficult back-to-back away fixtures. But he failed to mention that they have also had back-to-back home games three times across all competitions already this season and have played only two of the current top six in their opening 10 league games.

"I always say that at the end of the season, you play 19 matches at home and away and it doesn't matter when but, the reality is that the way the fixtures are coming, sometimes they have an influence in the moment," he said.

"We had a double fixture away in September (at Burnley and Watford). Now we have a double away league fixture at Bournemouth and Manchester City.

"We will have Juventus away before we go to Manchester City, and we will have Valencia away before Liverpool. In this part of the season, we play away against possibly the three biggest candidates for the title, in Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City, so the calendar was not nice to us.

"But I think by the end of December, which is the end of the first half of the Premier League season, we are not going to be in the position we are now. We will be in a better position."

In-form Bournemouth are seeking a fourth victory in five league matches when they host United and Mourinho said that he was not surprised by their steady progress under manager Eddie Howe.

"Same manager, clinical scouting work," Mourinho said. "I wouldn't say it's a big surprise."

The United manager also said he was "100 per cent not guilty" of using foul language after being cleared by an independent panel of a Football Association charge.

Mourinho was accused of improper conduct for remarks he allegedly made in Portuguese after their 3-2 Premier League win over Newcastle on Oct 6.

He has avoided a touchline ban after the charge was found "not proven", although it is understood that the FA is considering an appeal.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 03, 2018, with the headline 'Jose confident United will finish in top 4'. Print Edition | Subscribe