Belfast Telegraph

Mourinho: Manchester United can't assume top four spot is wrapped up

Staying focused: Jose Mourinho won’t allow Manchester United to drop off in the final weeks of the season
Staying focused: Jose Mourinho won’t allow Manchester United to drop off in the final weeks of the season

By Simon Peach

Jose Mourinho believes Manchester United still face a fight to secure a top four finish, never mind sealing second spot.

The inevitable became official on Sunday as Manchester City wrapped up the Premier League title without kicking a ball, thanks to rock-bottom West Brom's shock 1-0 win at Old Trafford.

United were a shadow of the side that stormed back to win the Manchester derby the previous weekend, leading boss Mourinho to say he would drop floundering stars for Saturday's FA Cup semi-final against Tottenham.

Before that trip to Wembley comes tonight's league match at Bournemouth, which takes on more significance in the wake of the loss to the Baggies.

United can use their game in hand to stretch their lead over third-placed Liverpool to four points and all but seal Champions League qualification, which Mourinho believes is up in the air as fifth-placed Chelsea look to kick on.

"We lost three points," Mourinho said of the defeat to West Brom. "We lost three points that could have given us great stability in second position.

"Now we still have the fourth position to fight for because Chelsea won (at Southampton on Saturday) and we lost, so we still have to fight for the top four."

Mourinho's former club are 11 points behind United with five matches to play - the same number as United have heading to Bournemouth, where the composition of the Portuguese's starting line-up and squad will be interesting.

Paul Pogba, Alexis Sanchez and Ander Herrera performed poorly against the Baggies, so may well be twitchy after Mourinho's cutting remarks.

Juan Mata was another unable to make an impact on Sunday and is looking for a response.

"Second position was not done before the game," Mata said. "It was not done even if we won, so losing - the next game is even more important.

"We know that we have to compete until the last week.

"It has been a long season, but we need to make sure we can compete until the end and keep that second position and we'll fight to be in another FA Cup final and try to win it.

"There's plenty (to play for this season). One trophy, the FA Cup final. We all know how important it is and then get second in the league, which is not the ideal position, but it is a position we want to finish in now."

Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo and Scott McTominay were unused substitutes in Sunday's loss and will hope to be involved on the south coast.

Marouane Fellaini, Matteo Darmian, Eric Bailly, Michael Carrick and Luke Shaw were absent from the squad that hosted West Brom, while Daley Blind is back in training and pushing for a recall.

Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe, meanwhile, has called on his players to end their campaign on a winning note in order to match their feats of last season.

The Cherries occupy 11th position in the table and are in no danger of relegation. However, a run of one win in eight league games has seen them stutter.

Despite that, Howe said that he has no intention of letting the season peter out and is targeting as high a finish as possible amidst a handful of inconsistent results in recent weeks.

"Our form since Christmas has been really good but there's a frustration that we haven't really kicked on and found the fluency in the performances we've created," he said.

"We are in exactly the same position as were this time last year, we finished really strongly last season so the challenge is there for us to do that again."

Belfast Telegraph

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