United ready to pounce if City slip

Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku jumps for joy after scoring their final goal in Monday's 3-0 win against Stoke City that cut leaders Manchester City's lead to 12 points.
Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku jumps for joy after scoring their final goal in Monday's 3-0 win against Stoke City that cut leaders Manchester City's lead to 12 points.PHOTO: REUTERS

They cut EPL lead to 12 points, Sanchez move hinges on Mkhitaryan deal, says agent

LONDON • Manchester United and Manchester City may have been embroiled in an Alexis Sanchez tug-of-war, but Jose Mourinho has only one thing on his mind - for City to continue dropping points.

Speaking after Monday's 3-0 Premier League home victory over Stoke which reduced the gap on league leaders City to 12 points, the United manager said that the title is now City's to lose.

"I think the distance between first and second is still big, distance that normally, the leader controls," Mourinho said on the club website (www.manutd.com).

"I've been there before, you play without pressure, you play with confidence, you play with a tranquility that you can slip and make a few errors no problem.

"So it's up to them (City) to keep the confidence and to control their destiny.

"What matters is that every match we have to win and we have to try and finish in the best possible position."

City's 4-3 defeat by Liverpool on Sunday should have been ample inspiration for United to make a bright start, and Mourinho's men did just that.

Two superbly taken first-half strikes, from Antonio Valencia and Anthony Martial, put United in command against a spirited Stoke side and Romelu Lukaku made sure of the win midway through the second half with a low drive.

It was the kind of dazzling play United are capable of and which makes the yawning gap to City a puzzle.

Mourinho had spoken of the benefit of the warm-weather break in Dubai last week and there was an obvious freshness about United.

However, despite going into the break 2-0 up, the Portuguese insisted that his side played much better football after the interval.

"Stoke bought players to play football, they were not afraid to play and they created us problems in the first half," said the 54-year-old.

"I think the first half was not very good. I think Stoke had a good, positive attitude.

"They had the best chances in the first half, and then we were a bit lucky to score the second goal.

"In the second half we improved, we moved the ball quicker, we had faster transitions, we passed the ball and recovered the ball and we created them problems."

Meanwhile, United's bid to sign Sanchez from Arsenal hinges on Henrikh Mkhitaryan moving the other way, the Armenian player's agent said yesterday.

There has been speculation Mkhitaryan will be offered as a makeweight from United to land the Chile international, and Mourinho left the playmaker out of the squad who faced Stoke on Monday due to "doubts about his future".

Mkhitaryan's agent Mino Raiola told Britain's The Times of London that Sanchez's transfer to United was dependent on his client joining Arsenal as part of the deal.

"Manchester United are not going to sign Sanchez unless Mkhi agrees to join Arsenal," Raiola told the newspaper. "Mkhi is going to do what is best for him. He has two-and-a-half years left on his contract so it's his decision.

"Sanchez is part of the Mkhi deal, not the other way around."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 17, 2018, with the headline 'United ready to pounce if City slip'. Print Edition | Subscribe