Jose Mourinho spoke exclusively to MUTV ahead of Manchester United's Saturday teatime clash with Southampton at St Mary's. Among other things, he discussed Alexis Sanchez's fitness, the great spirit within his squad and why Diogo Dalot is set to make his Premier League debut against the Saints...
Firstly, Jose, how good an achievement was it to get through to the knockout stages of the Champions League with a game to spare?
“If you immediately look in that direction, then when the draw happened and we got Juventus and Valencia everyone knew that it was one of the hard groups. If you go in the direction of we are qualified with one match in hand then it’s job done, and a job well done, and great that we did it from such a difficult group. If we go more specific and we analyse a couple of performances and a couple of results then we are not so happy because we want to do better at Old Trafford in the way we had six fantastic points in two matches [away from home] which put us in this situation. At home in three matches we scored one goal and only won four points, and of course we want to do better but in the end we have 10 points in five matches and we qualified with one match in hand. Many, many clubs involved in the Champions League would like to be in that position.”
We saw another late goal last week against Young Boys – does that say a lot about the determination and spirit of the team?
“Of course, yes. Everybody knows that the best possible feeling is to win matches in extra time where that special feeling, that special happiness and that special explosion happens. That’s amazing and shows the spirit of the team and the determination of the team, and shows that we go until the end. Analysing by that perspective shows we are very good. If you want to go in another direction then you look at why we don’t win before [that time]. Sometimes because the opponent fights really hard and makes it very difficult for us, other times we are a team that normally doesn’t start matches very strongly. That was not the case in the last match because we started very strongly and after 10 minutes we should have had the game won.”
The Valencia game on matchday six of the Champions League comes in the middle of a very busy spell of fixtures. Now we have qualified, will that give you a chance to rest or rotate players?
“It depends on the moment and on injuries and on players available for rotation. I would love to give an opportunity to some players that are not playing a lot. Immediately the players that come into my eyes are the two young boys, Andreas Pereira and Scott McTominay, because they have to play. We want them to play and they are not playing a lot and this is a great opportunity to start a match and play 90 minutes in the Champions League. For Andreas, it would be a special feeling for him to go back to Valencia [where he was on loan] and play with United. These two boys deserve to play but there are others who deserve to play and need to play, and especially in December the team needs a little bit of rotation. But if you have injuries then we’ll be in a situation where the same players have to play.”
Talking of injuries, can you tell us any more about how Alexis Sanchez is?
“The first thing I can say is that in every other club when a player is not playing it’s a simple manager’s decision. In our club, when a player doesn’t play, it’s always [reported that it's] because the player isn’t behaving and has disciplinary issues. Of course that’s not the case again. He has an important injury. I don’t want to risk by saying for how long [he will be out] but from the top of my experience, I would say he’s not playing [again] this year.”
That’s a real blow…
“Yes but that’s what I’m saying about having options and rotation and it’s about players being tired and coming in to replace others. It’s also about one that comes in and plays against Young Boys and also Southampton and the less players we have - in this case, we lost in one week Alexis and Victor [Lindelof] - reduces these possibilities of managing the squad.”
Up to and including Newcastle away, there are now eight league games in 32 days – how significant is this spell of matches in the Premier League campaign?
“We can forget the Champions League [against Valencia] in terms of high focus and high demand from all of us because it’s a different situation. But yes, we have now a period that started against Crystal Palace when we need to get points and against Palace we didn’t. We have to get points in these matches until the end of that match against Newcastle so we can improve our position in the table.”
Is that run of games a test of the squad’s strength and maybe an opportunity for some players to come back into the side?
“Yes, the opportunities will always come. You saw that Lindelof got injured and Phil Jones had not been playing and then Jones had the opportunity to play against Young Boys and that will happen all over the place I believe. In the other match, Luke Shaw was suspended, and now we have Ashley Young on four yellow cards. Who knows when the fifth arrives. So players must be ready and in this case some are going away to the medical room and others are coming back. For example, this weekend will be the first call for [Diogo] Dalot.”
Has he impressed you in training and earned his opportunity?
“He's ready now. He had an important injury and then surgery, and then a second injury with the national team [Portugal Under-21s] when he was already playing against Young Boys and Derby County. When he was almost there, he was injured for the national team but now he’s had two weeks of training and we think he’s ready now.”
Southampton are struggling but they always give us a good game. Are you surprised to see them where they are?
“I am. I don’t think this is their potential. I think they have very good players and are a very good team. The way they play is much better than the results they are getting. For many years they are a good team and I’m pretty sure this is a moment for them and at the end of the season they will have no problems. So it’s one more reason to believe we are going to have a very difficult match.”
Everyone always raises their game against United, don’t they?
“It’s normal but we have to raise ours too and that’s the way big clubs have to play and have to believe that they create that special motivation from opponents - players, and also fans. So we always find great motivation in every place we go and we have to be ready for that.”
Finally, is it good to have clean sheets in the last couple of games?
“Yes, two matches without conceding. Two matches where David [De Gea] didn’t have a lot of work to do but when he had, in one isolated occasion, that save [against Young Boys] is one that only he is capable of making. As I always say when we concede goals it’s not about the keeper, it’s about the whole team. When we don’t concede goals, it’s also about the team and we’ve had two solid performances against two dangerous teams, Palace and Young Boys. Without being offensive, their counterattack was always dangerous and demanded a lot in terms of concentration from our team.”