Manchester United vs West Ham: Jose Mourinho refuses to rule his side out of the title race despite nine-point gap

Mourinho's Chelsea side of 2015 overhauled a 10-point gap to Manchester City inside a month, but that was in a two-horse race and his United side are yet to record back-to-back league wins

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The Independent Online

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.

It can happen. Sir Alex Ferguson’s first Premier League title in 1993 was won from a similarly unpromising beginning but Mourinho must know it is unlikely.

“During a season there are moments when everything goes against you and moments when everything goes in your favour,” he said. “We know the race is not over but the reality is that there is a distance and there are many quality teams involved. Let’s go match by match and see what happens.”

The next match is at home to West Ham, a team in dreadful form and whose record at Old Trafford is hugely indifferent. But you could have said the same about Burnley and Stoke, both of whom returned home with a point secured against the overwhelming run of play. As Mourinho wearily pointed out, “For Stoke, their goalkeeper was man of the match, for Burnley, their goalkeeper was man of the match”.

On Thursday night, however well Brad Jones played for Feyenoord in the Europa League, the Australian keeper was unable to prevent Manchester United scoring four.

“Those kinds of big results are not very usual in the Premier League,” said Mourinho. “We lost 4-0 at Chelsea but it is not very usual because there is a great balance among the teams. Rather than beat one team 5-0, we need to win five games.”

Manchester United have not won back-to-back games since the start of the season when three straight victories gave Old Trafford hope that Mourinho might put together the electric starts that won him his first two titles at Chelsea.

Wayne Rooney’s opening goal in the rout of Feyenoord stole some easy headlines but the absence of Anthony Martial, who is rather more important to Manchester United’s long-term future, raised some eyebrows.

Having begun his first season thrillingly after a £36m move from Monaco made him football’s most expensive teenager, Martial may be suffering from second-season syndrome or he may be one of the very few at Manchester United who is missing Louis van Gaal.

“First of all, last year’s team is very different to this year’s team,” said Mourinho. “Last year’s was probably more adaptive to Anthony. He was probably more comfortable playing that way, at that intensity, at that rate of ball possession and ball circulation.

anthony-martial.jpg
Martial has suffered a dip in form this season (Getty)

“He needs some time to adapt but in our squad we have a lot of people in those positions – we have Mkhitaryan, Lingard, Depay, Mata, Rashford. These are the positions where we probably have more options than any other.

“You have one opportunity, you have two, you have three but, if you don’t bite, then somebody else comes and takes the bait.”

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