Belfast Telegraph

Mourinho: United can bridge gap

By Tim Rich

Jose Mourinho has insisted that despite the nine-point gap separating Manchester United from the top of the Premier League, they are still genuine title contenders.

There was only one reason Mourinho was brought to Old Trafford and that was to win back a Premier League trophy United once regarded as theirs by right. Three months into the season, he has still recorded only one league victory of significance - and that was against a Leicester side making a feeble defence of the championship they won against some of the longest odds ever offered in a sporting contest.

The Manchester United manager, however, takes a rather more detached view. Nine-point gaps, he argued, are the kind that can disappear very quickly. "When I won the title with Chelsea 18 months ago, I had a 10 point advantage and then, one month later, I had the same number of points as Manchester City.

"We lost 10 points in one month. It was between the end of December and mid-January. We recovered and won the title. You can recover points and others can lose them."

The one flaw in Mourinho's theory is that at Chelsea Mourinho was involved in a two-way struggle with Manuel Pellegrini's Manchester City. This time, Manchester United would have to overtake five different clubs.

The United manager, Jose Mourinho, remarked that after overtaking Van Nistelrooy's record, Rooney's task should be to help his club win the competition.

They are the bookmaker's favourites to do so.

"Rooney's is a remarkable achievement obviously it would be even better if he could help the club to win the one competition it has never won - the Europa League," said Mourinho, whose first European trophy was the Uefa Cup with Porto 13 years ago.

"It is not the biggest competition and there are a lot of games, but it is one we want to win. Let us qualify and let us try to win it."

One of the highlights of the night was the appearance of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who had disappeared without trace since his £27m transfer from Borussia Dortmund.

His last start at Old Trafford, in the Manchester derby defeat back on September 10, had seen him substituted at half time.

This was vastly better and his manager has called for more of the same if the Armenian has any designs on tasting more regular action as the season - both domestic and continental - continues to unfold.

"He now needs to replicate this kind of performance in the Premier League," said Mourinho, whose side host West Ham on Sunday.

"This is one more step and it gives him the right to believe he can play in the next match. He needs to play with more physicality and more aggression but he has the quality and that is why we bought him."

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