Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho responded to his side’s 3-1 derby defeat to Premier League leaders Manchester City on Sunday by saying his team had paid the price for their midweek Champions League exertions in beating Juventus.
United fought back for a 2-1 victory against the Italian champions in Turin on Wednesday while City cruised through a home game against Ukrainians Shakhtar Donetsk 6-0 and the Portuguese manager was quick to point out that context.
“Everybody has to agree — it is one thing to go to Juventus and play against one of the best teams in the world for 90 minutes and another thing to beat Shakhtar Donetsk at home 6-0 and be very relaxed. We arrived in different circumstances,” said Mourinho.
“It is not the physical effort but the mental pressure. I think some of the boys felt it a little bit,” he added.
But in contrast with some defeats this season, Mourinho was unwilling to criticise his team’s attitude and effort.
“The way people who don’t understand football analyse it is with stats. I don’t go for stats. I go for what I felt in the game and it was there until minute 80 something.
“We made mistakes. We were punished but the fight, the togetherness, it is something we are building and are not going to lose that because of a defeat,” he said.
“For me zero words against my players, everything is positive. I am with them and they are with me,” added the former Real Madrid boss.
Mourinho was without French midfielder Paul Pogba, sidelined with injury, and while the United boss did not want to use that absence as an excuse, he said the need to play Marouane Fellaini had limited his later options.
“I don’t like to lose and speak about this player that was not (here), I don’t like that very much but he is important for us in many aspects,” Mourinho said of Pogba.
“We had to play Fellaini, he was not ready to play for 90 minutes. I can imagine (if) when the result was 2-1 to bring a fresh Fellaini, I think they would be in big big trouble.
“When we had that final push, Fellaini was doing an incredible effort to stay on the pitch, risking his injury and condition to stay on the pitch. For different reasons we miss Paul but that doesn’t mean with Paul we win the game so that is not an excuse.”
Eighth-placed United are now 12 points behind leaders City and 12 ahead of Cardiff City who are in the relegation zone.
When asked if that meant his team now had no title hopes, Mourinho replied: “I think we are not going to be relegated.”