Press conference analysis: Manchester United’s Jose Mourinho on Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Leicester City and the Champions League draw
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has enjoyed an excellent start to the Premier League season, starting with back-to-back 4-0 victories, and he was understandably in good spirits on Friday.
The Portuguese boss was speaking to the press ahead of his side’s clash against a rejuvenated Leicester City outfit on Saturday evening, with the Foxes convincingly beating Brighton last time out.
And addressing the test Craig Shakespeare’s side will pose, he said:
“I think they are the same team as they were two seasons ago. Are they going to be champions again? Honestly, I don’t think so because there are many teams that I don’t think all of them are going to fail. But I think in terms of their qualities, I think they are the same team and they are playing exactly the same way they played before.”
Manchester United ran out comfortable victors in their two league encounters with Leicester last season – winning the home fixture 4-1 – but he insisted his side won’t be complacent on Saturday.
“[Leicester’s] game against Arsenal ended with a defeat but could have ended with a victory. At home, they won comfortably [against Brighton last weekend]. So, I think they are back to their normality and, for me, their normality is a very difficult match for us tomorrow.”
But there was only one topic on every journalist’s lips heading into the press conference and that was the return of striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, announced in typical ‘Zlatan’ style on Twitter yesterday afternoon.
The 35-year-old Swede will return to Old Trafford on a one-year deal after scoring 28 goals in 46 matches across all competitions last year, despite still undergoing rehabilitation work after hyper-extending his knee in the Europa League quarter-final clash with Anderlecht, and a time-frame is still unclear.
When asked about a potential return date, the United boss said:
“I don’t want to think about it. I just think he will be an extra man for us in the second part of the season. But I have no idea at all and I think the right way is not even to think about it, to speak about it and just let him do his work, step by step and come back when he’s really ready.”
But whilst not knowing when he’ll be fit, he expressed his delight at Ibrahimovic’s deal:
“I’m really happy that he’s with us because [it] shows two things for me – it shows me the dimension of the player and the dimension of the club. It would be very easy for him to say goodbye [but] he doesn’t do that. He wants to follow his dreams and he wants to play football at the highest level.”
Despite the welcome distraction of Ibrahimovic’s return, Mourinho quickly moved on to talk about his current crop of players and he reserved a lot of praise for Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s start to the year.
“We spent our time together, working together, learning about each other. The second part of last season was good for him and I believe, with his talent, that this season is going to be even better.”
Before giving a credible mention to Anthony Martial’s start to the Premier League season, with the Frenchman scoring twice in just over 30 minutes of action after being used as second-half substitute.
“I think when you have some talent, you cannot waste it. I think when you’re blessed with some talent, you have to fulfil that talent, you have to explore that talent, you cannot be happy just with glimpses of talent. I want more from him because he has all the qualities for that.”
Looking further into the future, the United boss also reacted to the Champions League draw made yesterday which saw his side pitted against Benfica, FC Basel and CSKA Moscow in the group stage.
Manchester United – starting in pot two – managed to avoid the likes of Real Madrid, Juventus and Bayern Munich as they were handed one of the ‘easier’ groups in comparison to their English rivals.
But Mourinho remained wary of his opponents and said:
“I think it’s a dangerous group and, if you go to the recent history of United, United lost against Basel, United couldn’t beat Benfica in two matches, I think also against CSKA Moscow the last time was 0-0 or 1-0 or something. I know the places. It’s not going to be easy.”
United’s Champions League campaign will get underway when they face Swiss side FC Basel at Old Trafford on September 12, finishing the group stages with another home tie vs CSKA on December 5th.
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