LONDON – Jose Mourinho says recent history proves it takes a defensive mindset to win the Premier League, although he insists his Manchester United side can buck that trend.
In one of his by-now frequent and thinly veiled critiques of his former club Chelsea, Mourinho pointed out that his successor Antonio Conte employed a defence-first, counter-attacking style to win last season’s title.
And while the United manager says his side are capable of following that example, he also wants to ensure they play in a positive fashion.
“We try to play the best we can,” Mourinho said on Friday. “We know that if you look in a pragmatic way, you see the last winners of the Premier League, they did not play attacking football.
“They played defensive football and counter-attack football. So, according to the results, that is the way to win the Premier League.
“We try to play according to the qualities of our players. We try to play positive, we try to play good, but we try to win.”
United, renowned for their swashbuckling style under former manager Alex Ferguson, have made a strong start to the Premier League season, winning their opening three games and scoring 10 goals in the process to top the table.
But, talking at United’s Carrington training ground on the eve of a potentially difficult visit to Stoke City, Mourinho insisted his team are not afraid of a hard, defensive battle.
“If one day to win we have to play defensive football, we have to do it,” said Mourinho.
“If we go to Stoke and Stoke in some moments of the match, they put us under pressure and they are dominant, we have to be humble and we have to be pragmatic and we have to face the reality.
“If you ask me, are we going to go there and play with seven at the back, like some teams do, five plus two? No, we’re not going to do that. We’re going to try and play well and score goals.
“But if our opponent is better than us and dominant, we are humble enough to transform our way of playing to play for a result.”
Mourinho has praised the club’s management for leaving him with a stable squad, in contrast to a number of United’s rivals who have struggled with the distractions created by big-name stars coming to the end of their contracts.
United have employed a policy of adding an additional, optional year at the end of all deals, meaning that the only players currently with less than 12 months remaining on their contracts are veterans Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Michael Carrick.
Mourinho also praised Everton manager Ronald Koeman for his handling of the controversy surrounding former United club captain Wayne Rooney following his arrest and charge for a drink-driving offence.
“I’m really happy that Ronald Koeman thinks in this simple way that I do too, and has already said he’s going to play tomorrow,” said Mourinho.
Premier League Fixtures Today (SA times)
1.30pm: Manchester City v Liverpool.
4pm: Leicester v Chelsea, Everton v Tottenham, Arsenal v Bournemouth, Southampton v Watford, Brighton & Hove Albion v West Brom.
6.30pm: Stoke v Manchester United.