Pep Guardiola has clearly won his private, and long-standing, feud with Jose Mourinho for this season at least but, to listen to beaten manager Carlos Carvalhal on Saturday, the all-conquering Catalan should make the most of his current dominance.
Manchester City will be crowned Premier League champions within a matter of days, possibly as early as Saturday, when they host Mourinho and United in a derby for the ages.
However, in a season that has, in recent weeks, become increasingly about Mourinho justifying his own performance as the club’s manager, Carvalhal believes there has been evidence that his close friend and fellow Portuguese manager is lifting United out of the doldrums.
“His past speaks for itself. At Porto, nobody expected him to win the Champions League, but he won it,” said Carvalhal.
“After he moved to Chelsea, they hadn’t won the league for 30 years or something, and he was champion there. Go to Inter Milan, no championship for 15 years, and he wins everything there.
“Go to Real Madrid, to play against the best team of the century, and you know everyone said it was impossible to beat Barcelona, and he was champion in Madrid.
“He came here, Manchester United have gone a little down in recent years, it’s the reality, they are not winning trophies, but the reality is that in England is it’s harder to make all the steps in one season.
“But on this path he’s doing better than in the recent past. He’s preparing for the future to do better and better, and try to make the jump to be champions.”
Even allowing for the desultory first-half performance turned in by Carvalhal’s team, United certainly had the air of champions for half an hour on Saturday, the excellent Jesse Lingard having a hand in goals for Romelu Lukaku — his 100th in the Premier League — and Alexis Sanchez.
“It’s not bad, but I want to add trophies to the personal stuff,” said Lukaku of his landmark goal. “There’s a lot of hard work to be done and I’m enjoying the challenge. I don’t like to talk about personal stuff. I’m a team player, so I put the team ahead of myself. I’m a striker and I know there are a lot more goals in me and, hopefully, I can add a trophy as well to the goals.
“We’ve started our games really well, but today was really dominant from the beginning and that’s how we should play all of the time, with a lot of high-tempo passing and high pressing.
“Today, we showed that we could play with a different playing style and that’s something we should do every game.”
Certainly, it was a display that had United supporters enthusing and, perhaps, finally daring to believe that Mourinho may be the man to return them to their former glories.
With that in mind, the way in which the United manager approaches this week’s derby will be intriguing.
For weeks, United supporters have lived in dread of being the fall-guys for the day when Guardiola and City are crowned champions and the prospect of a humiliating defeat at the Etihad is too much for some to contemplate.
Does Mourinho ‘park the bus’ — a phrase that seems to have been invented with him in mind — or does he approach the game trying to fight fire with fire, throwing caution to the wind and going down in a blaze of glory?
Naturally, Mourinho was in no mood to discuss those options after defeating Swansea. Self-justification and self-promotion were his priorities.
“When is that? Next week? I’m not thinking yet about it,” claimed Mourinho.
“Manchester City is not important for me, what is important for me is that since the moment we left the first position and went to second, we stayed there for the whole of the season. We deserve to finish second in spite of what you can say, the criticism you make, you all say the third, fourth, fifth, sixth are better than us, but they are not better than us, because we have more points than them.
“We are going to fight every match. Seven matches to go, we are going to fight to try and finish second.
“I think we have 10 more points than last season, something like that. We have more goals scored, we have less goals conceded, we finish sixth, we’re going to try to finish second, so the season is not as bad as you try to be to make it.”
MAN UNITED (4-2-3-1):
De Gea 7; Valencia 6, Smalling 6, Lindelof 6, Young 6; Pogba 7, Matic 6; Mata 7 (McTominay 90), Lingard 9 (Herrera 75, 6), Sanchez 7 (Rashford 75, 6); Lukaku 7.
Subs (not used):
Bailly, Martial, Shaw, Pereira.
Fabianski 7; Naughton 5, van der Hoorn 5, Fernandez 6, Mawson 7, Olsson 6; Dyer 5 (Abraham 45, 8), Sung-yueng 5 (Carroll 45, 6), King 6, Clucas 7 (Routledge 54, 6); A Ayew 6. Subs (not used) Narsingh, Nordfeldt, Bartley, Roberts.
R Madley 7
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