David Moyes needed only five words to win the pre-match verbal skirmish with Jose Mourinho – declaring in reply to the Chelsea manager's provocative claim that Wayne Rooney would leave for continental Europe this summer: "He will go to Brazil."
Moyes revealed that he had received an apology from Mourinho and Chelsea's media department in midweek, after the Portuguese's observations, first published in Tuesday's London Evening Standard interview, that: "My feeling, which is based on years of communicating with Sir Alex and some inside information, is Man United are not happy, but they are calm."
Mourinho's quotes were widely picked up and, according to Chelsea, taken out of context as sensational headlines appeared the following day in other newspapers.
Moyes, who has always had a generally good relationship with Mourinho, claimed that "poor journalism" was to blame for the way the interview was construed elsewhere, though few managers would welcome an opponent speaking in such terms about them and their club.
Moyes was sanguine about Mourinho's latest Rooney jibe. "I wouldn't do it but everybody has their own style. I wouldn't talk about other managers at other clubs and I wouldn't talk about other players at other clubs. But managers have their own style," he said.
The suggestion that the 28-year-old, who has started solitary light training without the ball on the Carrington grass – would head for Europe was wrong, he said. "I completely disagree [with it]. I can only tell you I disagree." Asked what the Chelsea manager's motivation was, he observed: "I can't tell you – but only time will give you the answer about Wayne."
Though the Glaswegian otherwise kept out of the pre-match jousting which has become a well-established Mourinho ritual, it is hard to imagine that he is not tiring of the Portuguese's politicking about affairs of his own club. It was on the morning of the two clubs' goalless draw at Old Trafford in August that the newspapers carried Mourinho's caustic observations that: "I didn't say [to Rooney] 'you will be a second choice for me'. We are trying to get a player that a manager told 'you will be a second option for me'." Moyes had said nothing of the sort.
The notion of selling Rooney to Chelsea, ahead of a 2014-15 season in which United may find themselves competing with the west London side in an attempt to get back into the Champions League, is unthinkable, for the same reason that Liverpool would not sell Luis Suarez to Arsenal last summer. It may prove to be a case of allowing Rooney's contract to run down and taking the hit on losing him for a minimal sum in 2015, if it means having him around for a "comeback" season.
It was when he was asked if he retained hopes of regaining the title that the current mood around the club became most clear. Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers had been equally unwilling to fall for a headline like that on Thursday, though his response had a far greater optimism about it. "I would put our team up against everyone," Rodgers said.
But despite five Premier League wins in their last six matches, Moyes replied that it would be "wrong for me to come out and say something I couldn't back up or justify. So I am OK winning the next game. The longer it goes, the more I can start to think about what's down the line. But I would always be thinking about being at the top. I wouldn't think about being anywhere else".
It would certainly enhance the way that United are projecting themselves to the world if others were doing the talking for the club, in outlets other than its in-house media. The articulate way Darren Fletcher spoke up for the club and Moyes at a commercial launch eight days ago was a breath of fresh air, which felt like a captain's oration. He was back doing club media this week, while the more upbeat United line – Robin van Persie declaring his faith in the manager – had to be garnered from a commercial interview the striker had given.
Moyes, who when asked about his interest in Mourinho's midfielder Juan Mata reiterated that talking about people's players "is not my style", agreed Sunday was critical to keeping in touch. He hinted at a tight, attritional, defence-minded game-plan and said Van Persie may be back on the grass early next week.
"My relationship with Jose has been fine," he also reflected. "I respect him for the success he's had and for the way he's managed his clubs. He's been one of the best modern-day managers and may well go on to be one of the great managers. I've got no problems at all with Jose." But there was also the faintest hint of yearning – to be cut the same slack that Sunday's adversary, with his swagger, style and mot juste, always seems to get.
Asked if, with Van Persie and Rooney out, he could operate without a striker, he observed that Mourinho had done precisely that over the years. "Maybe it would have been reported differently if I had done it," he said.