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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 14 August 2018

Mourinho: Second with Manchester United in 2017/18 is one of my biggest achievements 

Portuguese manager admits he will consult with World Cup players to see if they are ready to return for first Premier League opener with Leicester City

Jose Mourinho has worries ahead of the start of the new Premier League season. EPA
Jose Mourinho has worries ahead of the start of the new Premier League season. EPA

It was scarcely a modest mantra but Jose Mourinho’s references to his eight league titles became familiar last season.

If they were reminders of one of the most silverware-studded CVs in managerial history, they also felt an attempt to alter the prevailing narrative amid the paeans of praise to Pep Guardiola.

Mourinho’s efforts to reshape arguments took another turn on Thursday. A serial winner again highlighted past triumphs. Yet he argued one of his major feats came in a rare year without a trophy, in a season when his side finished 19 points off the pace in the Premier League.

Yet he is railing against such statistics. The other interpretation, which Mourinho would prefer, is that Manchester United finished in second, in their highest position and with their best points total since Sir Alex Ferguson retired.

A man who has felt under siege argued he has been given insufficient credit for that, while hinting that Mauricio Pochettino and Jurgen Klopp are granted too much praise.

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He feels he is an overachiever, not an underachiever. “It is difficult for me to believe that we finished second,” he said.

“Because you [the media] are capable of making people finish second look like they were relegated and you're capable of making people who win nothing and finish below us look like serial winners.

“Sometimes it's difficult to believe - I won eight championships and three Premier Leagues, but I keep saying, thinking and feeling that the second position last season was one of my biggest achievements in the game.”

It had the feel of Mourinho-esque hyperbole. It was scarcely comparable with his two Uefa Champions League triumphs, for instance, that he achieved with Porto and Inter Milan.

Yet the Portuguese is rebutting the notion he is yesterday’s man. In the process, however, he suggested finishing second to his old enemy Pep Guardiola ranked among his greatest feats.

United begin the new season widely tipped to come third behind Guardiola's City and Liverpool.

Mourinho wishes Friday's curtain-raiser against Leicester City had been played 48 hours later. He approaches the game with only one signing, the former City target Fred, likely to start, and a cast list of absentees.

Mourinho is without both his preferred right-backs, Antonio Valencia and the new recruit Diogo Dalot, meaning the unsettled Matteo Darmian is likely to figure.

Midfielders Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic are injured, making it all the more important that the £52 million (Dh246m) Brazilian Fred has arrived.

Decisions beckon about those involved in the latter stages of the World Cup, if men like Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard, Ashley Young and Romelu Lukaku are rushed back after only a week of training.

“I will speak with that group of players because everybody is different, physically and mentally, to see how available they feel they are,” Mourinho explained.

“Their feeling is very important and to understand how they think they can help or not help.”

Marcus Rashford and Phil Jones, who cut short their summer holidays, look likely starters.

Leicester have been busier than United in the transfer market. They are waiting to see if the former United centre-back Jonny Evans is fit to debut against his old club.

They brought in the £13m defender Filip Benkovic from Dinamo Zagreb on Thursday. “He is a good young player for the future,” said manager Claude Puel.

The 2015/16 champions were adamant it was not to facilitate a move to United for the World Cup breakout star Harry Maguire.

“He showed his quality with the national team,” added Puel. “Harry is a fantastic man. He is happy to remain with us. He has come back with a smile.” Mourinho has rarely smiled in a troubled summer. Yet he feels he has given the United faithful something to smile about.

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