Three-horse race for final spot: Mourinho

Manchester United midfielder Marouane Fellaini headbutts Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero during a Premier League match at the Etihad Stadium. Referee Martin Atkinson gave the Belgian a straight red card in the 84th minute. Just 19 seconds befor
Manchester United midfielder Marouane Fellaini headbutts Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero during a Premier League match at the Etihad Stadium. Referee Martin Atkinson gave the Belgian a straight red card in the 84th minute. Just 19 seconds before this flashpoint, Fellaini was given a yellow card for clipping Aguero. United held out for a 0-0 draw.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Manager says United fighting with Arsenal, Reds to join City in top 4 after goalless derby

LONDON • Jose Mourinho identified Liverpool and Arsenal as Manchester United's chief rivals for Champions League qualification after his side's 0-0 draw at Manchester City.

Thursday's stalemate at the Etihad Stadium left United just a point below local foes City, who occupy the Premier League's fourth and final Champions League qualifying berth.

However, Mourinho believes Liverpool, two points above United in third place having played a game more, and Arsenal, four points below them having played a game less, are now their principal rivals.

"I think Man City is going to finish top four," the United manager said. "The matches they have to play, I see them doing that. It's between us, Arsenal and Liverpool."

While United's run-in features successive trips to Arsenal and second-placed Tottenham Hotspur, City's is more benign. A home game with eighth-placed West Bromwich Albion represents their most arduous test.

United are also besieged by injuries and will now be without midfielder Marouane Fellaini for three games after he was shown an 84th-minute red card for headbutting Sergio Aguero.

Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo, Paul Pogba, Juan Mata and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are all sidelined.

Timothy Fosu-Mensah also picked up an injury against City after coming on in place of Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

With a two-legged Europa League semi-final against Celta Vigo also looming on United's horizon, Mourinho admitted his squad are being stretched to their limits.

"We have played 18 more matches than Liverpool," said the Portuguese, whose side equalled the club record of 24 successive top-flight games without defeat.

"Eighteen more matches is like half of a Premier League season, almost. Eighteen matches are many miles in the players' legs. So if you can say that, it's an unfair fight.

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"We have the semi-final (against Celta) on Thursday. We have a match (at home to Swansea City) on Sunday. We lost two more players today, Fellaini and Timo Mensah. I don't think we (will) recover any of the others. But we go for it, we fight."

He also suggested Aguero's exaggerated reaction to Fellaini's lowered forehead had influenced referee Martin Atkinson's decision to send the United player off.

City manager Pep Guardiola would only say: "I don't like to see guys sent off and would prefer to see Fellaini stay on the pitch, but I'm not going to analyse it."

City dominated the game, with Aguero volleying against the post in the ninth minute and fit-again substitute Gabriel Jesus seeing a stoppage-time header correctly ruled out for offside.

Guardiola said City's struggles in front of goal meant their run-in would be far from straightforward.

"We have five games left - three at home, two away - when every game will be a battle like today," said the Spaniard. "Because considering our average in chances created and chances scored, it's lower all the season."

ADVANTAGE LIVERPOOL

Eighteen more matches is like half of a Premier League season, almost. Eighteen matches are many miles in the players' legs. So if you can say that, it's an unfair fight.

JOSE MOURINHO , Manchester United manager, noting that Liverpool have played 18 games fewer than his men this term and claiming the Reds have an edge in the race to qualify for next season's Champions League.

City goalkeeper Claudio Bravo will undergo tests after being stretchered off with a calf injury in the second half. Guardiola expects him to miss tomorrow's home game with second-bottom Middlesbrough.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 29, 2017, with the headline 'Three-horse race for final spot: Mourinho'. Print Edition | Subscribe