Belfast Telegraph

Jose Mourinho knows title joy is priority for Manchester United

By Simon Peach

Jose Mourinho has brought back the smile, now the Manchester United manager needs to bring back the Premier League title.

Frustration replaced the medals and entertainment United fans became accustomed to under Sir Alex Ferguson, faltering under David Moyes and struggling with Louis van Gaal.

Having not finished lower than third in the Premier League era under the Scot, since he retired as a league winner in 2013 the Red Devils have finished seventh, fourth, fifth and sixth.

Such stats make uncomfortable reading for the 20-time champions, so too the fact they were an eye-watering 24 points behind champions Chelsea in Mourinho's maiden campaign.

Those struggles were tempered by successes in the Community Shield, EFL Cup and, most importantly, Europa League, but the Portuguese knows his side need to kick on this term in the Premier League.

"Can we win it? We can, but maybe we won't," Mourinho said.

"Everything is good and strong, but some of them (other clubs) are really strong in the market, so it is going to be difficult.

"Normally the second season should be better than the first because you know the club, you know the players.

"The players, they know you, the club know you can affect in a positive way the structure. You can affect in a positive way the people that work around you.

"So normally the second season should be better than the first, but again, this is modern football. The reality is totally different.

"So when I see the way other clubs invest, when I see the way other clubs keep their best players, when I see the way other clubs refuse to sell their best players, it is getting much harder.

"It's getting much harder for everyone, so we don't know."

United will be jostling with as many as six other teams for the title this season - all of which will be juggling domestic and European exertions, unlike recent seasons.

"There is one thing," Mourinho said. "This season is going to be a little more balanced because of the fact the top six are all in Europe.

"Not like last season when Chelsea and Liverpool played one match per week all season, with all the others playing in European competitions - especially us, playing in the Europa League.

"Next season, six teams, and also Everton, are going to play in Europe and that is going to create a new situation for Chelsea and Liverpool."

A deep, talented squad will therefore be as important as ever, and United have been working hard in a difficult market.

Long-standing target Victor Lindelof was signed from Benfica before Chelsea were gazumped to the signature of Romelu Lukaku, with United paying an initial £75m for the Belgium striker.

The 24-year-old arrives to much fanfare and expectation, filling the boots of last season's top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic - released at the end of his one-year deal after sustaining a serious knee injury.

All-time top scorer Wayne Rooney has also departed, returning to Everton after 13 medal-laden years, and Mourinho ideally wants two more signings, with the likes of Luke Shaw, Marcos Rojo and Ashley Young still out.

Those three joined United on their pre-season tour of the United States in a bid to boost camaraderie and togetherness.

The first ever Manchester derby on foreign soil went United's way as Lukaku and Marcus Rashford put City to the sword in Houston.

A year on from a quagmire pitch forcing their Beijing meeting to be called off, the cavernous NRG Stadium, host of the Super Bowl earlier this year, witnessed history as the rivals met in the International Champions Cup.

Lukaku's superb goal from an acute angle and a Rashford drive proved the difference as United racked up their third friendly win.

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