Manchester United try to play on front foot, Mourinho insists
Ahead of Chelsea test, manager says key to attacking ‘is for players to be able to do it’
Maurizio Sarri, manager of Chelsea; and Jose Mourinho, manager of Manchester United. Photograph: Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images
José Mourinho has denied Manchester United need to be 2-0 down to produce attacking football, with the manager saying he wants this from kick-off but that it is down to the players.
In United’s most recent match they came from 2-0 behind at half-time to win 3-2 against Newcastle. Last season they did the same at Manchester City.
Mourinho, asked whether this was what the team required to go on the front foot, said: “No. We try [to do this from the start]. The key is for the players to be able to do it. That story of the attacking football I still don’t understand because for me you can only play attacking football when you have the ball. You need the ball. When the opposition has the ball you have to defend.”
He emphasised that when United have the ball, he would like them to attack. “That is what I want. When the opponent has the ball, I want the ball … When you have the ball, you can play a different way and normally adapted to the qualities of your players.”
Mourinho returned the compliment. “I would love to have him in Manchester United,” he said. “But I don’t think Chelsea will sell him, so it’s not a problem. Chelsea is led by intelligent and experienced people in football and they would never sell Eden to Man United so it’s a non-point to comment.
“He is a nice kid. We had a good relation, we were champions together [in 2014-15] and he was for the first time the best player in the league with me. So I think the feelings are good.”
Paul Scholes again criticised United this week but Mourinho said he had not queried whether his players were upset with the club’s former midfielder. “I am not asking them if they read the press or if they are influenced by it. I don’t go in that direction. I can’t react – my honest thought is that I don’t comment.”
Chelsea have 20 points, seven more than United, and are second to City on goal difference. “They are not playing Champions League,” said Mourinho. “And that puts them just [focusing] on the Premier League and in the Premier League. The results speak for themselves – very good results, top of the league and of course lots of good players.
“But history says that when Eden Hazard is the best player of the Premier League, Chelsea is the champion – it happened with me and Antonio [Conte]. It is still the beginning, of course, but if he is the best player of the Premier League until now, Chelsea is [joint] top of the league because he is the kind of player who can make a huge difference.”
United have been fined €15,000 (£13,200) by Uefa for their late arrival and the subsequent delayed kick-off of their Champions League match against Valencia.
Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri has admitted he is “lucky” to find himself in direct opposition to Mourinho and does not yet consider himself worthy of favourable comparisons to the Manchester United manager, whom he rates as one of the best in the world.
Chelsea welcome Mourinho back today, with their former manager having suffered a trying start to the campaign, similar to that in 2015 as his second spell at Stamford Bridge unravelled. Yet, whereas his predecessor, Antonio Conte, clashed with Mourinho over the past two seasons, Sarri has nothing but admiration for the man who led the London club to three Premier League titles and whom he will confront for the first time.
The Chelsea head coach suggested United were the best in the division “player for player”, “a wonderful team” and praised Mourinho as “a coach who has won everything everywhere”. “Results speak for him so, at the moment, he is better than me for sure,” Sarri said. “I hope to improve myself in the future, but I need to win [trophies] if I want to compare myself to him. You are talking about one of the best coaches in the world, and I’m not at the moment one of the best. I need to win.
“I have won Serie B, Serie C, Serie D in Italy, like the Championship, League One and League Two here in England. But now I need to win at this level. Mourinho won in the past but will be able to win also in the future because he is really one of the best. Maybe the best. I am lucky to be here because it’s very difficult to start in a non-professional team, and to finish in one of the most important clubs in the world. So you need to be lucky.”
Asked to explain how he had benefited from good fortune over a coaching career that has taken the former banker through Italian amateur football before, at his 19th club, arriving in the Premier League, he said: “I was in the right place in the right moment. First of all, to arrive in Empoli [in 2012], where I had a very young team, but the players were very good. We had Daniele Rugani, who was 19. Elseid Hysaj, who was 19. We had Riccardo Saponara, who was 20 and Lorenzo Tonelli, who was 21. Nobody knew them at that moment, but they were very good and we won Serie B. So I was lucky.
“When Mourinho was at Internazionale and my target, in that period, was just to be a professional coach, I probably would not have believed this day would come. To have thought that would have been incredible. Without determination, it’s impossible to arrive here from non-league. So, while my character is different to Mourinho’s, maybe my level of determination is the same. But the Special One is Mourinho.”