José Mourinho believes Manchester United may not claim more points than last season but will prove to be a more impressive team.
United finished second with 81 points last May, trailing 19 behind the champions, Manchester City. Mourinho’s side have already lost twice this term but have won their past two league games and have nine points from five matches.
“I am not saying we are going to have more points than last season because last season we collect a very acceptable level,” the manager said. “I think we are going to be a better team. We are going to play better than we did but I think it’s going to be a very difficult season. Not just for us, also for the others because the others they can say exactly the same as I am saying and they can say: ‘Oh, Manchester United, good team, good squad, City good squad, good team.’”
Mourinho stated in pre-season that it would be a tough campaign and nothing has altered his opinion. “I am optimistic, but a difficult season, yes,” he said. “I don’t change that because we won two matches in the Premier League. You see the level of the teams: you see [the] Liverpool squad, City squad, Chelsea squad, Tottenham squad, Arsenal improving. It’s going to be difficult.”
Mourinho will drop Anthony Martial and select Alexis Sánchez for Wolves' visit to Old Trafford today. The move may disappoint a player who scored against Young Boys in midweek and has an uneven relationship with the manager. The Frenchman was one of United's better performers in the 3-0 win at Stade de Suisse, with his first goal since 20 January.
Mourinho said: “Sánchez plays tomorrow because Martial played 90 minutes and Sánchez played zero.” The manager added that the Chilean, like all of his squad, had to improve. “Every player has another level to step up,” he said.
Another player to step aside will be Diogo Dalot, who impressed on debut at Young Boys. "I want him in this process of adaptation to play totally fresh, so he's not playing tomorrow," Mourinho said. "He plays Tuesday again [against Derby in the League Cup]. To play for Manchester United is difficult enough for a kid of 19 coming from another country and after an important [knee] injury and surgery."
United captain Antonio Valencia is set to replace Dalot in the starting line-up, having been rested for the 3-0 win in Bern due to concerns over the impact of the synthetic surface. Jesse Lingard, another rested for the Young Boys trip, and Phil Jones, out recently with a hamstring complaint, are also back in contention for a match that Ander Herrera and Marcos Rojo are not ready for. Marcus Rashford and Nemanja Matic are suspended as United look to extend a three-match winning streak that has coincided with a settled centre-back partnership of Victor Lindelof and Chris Smalling. "I think the team as a team is resolving the defensive problems better than before," Mourinho said when asked about the duo. "I don't want to say it was [Eric] Bailly or [Phil] Jones and it is now Smalling or Lindelof. I think the team is more compact, is more solid.
“The spirit, the co-operation, the empathy, the communication – all of that improves in the team and good results bring confidence and I think we are improving as a team. I don’t want to say our improvement has the name of Chris or Victor. The team is playing better and of course they are part of the team that played well in these matches.”
But the pair have clearly helped solidify things as United bounced back from defeats to Brighton and Tottenham – a 3-0 loss that represented the heaviest home defeat of Mourinho's managerial career. United return to action at Old Trafford for the first time since then when Wolves visit on Saturday. The promoted side's manager Nuno Espirito Santo was part of Mourinho's squad when Porto won the Champions League in 2004, while the United manager's agent Jorge Mendes is playing a noteworthy role in a project that has a distinct Portuguese flavour.
Asked if he had spoken to Mendes about Wolves, Mourinho said: “No, I don’t speak with him for quite a long time, to be honest. “But when we speak we don’t speak about my job or his job. He’s my agent and that’s it.
“But I think the work in Wolves is good because it’s not just about the Portuguese influence – Portuguese manager, staff and players – it is also about getting the right ones and I think they got good young players and they got also good experienced, stable players.
“So, they got this season, the Portuguese national team goalkeeper, they got [Joao] Moutinho, which is one of the players of the 100 caps club. “Big stability in the team. The young ones are young boys with good potential and you can see the work of the coaching staff and the team is a really, really good team.”