José Mourinho declared Henrikh Mkhitaryan the man of the match as Manchester United beat Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 at Old Trafford, with the manager also pointing to how his side closed the gap to Manchester City, who occupy the final Champions League place.
Mkhitaryan’s 29th-minute strike was his first at home yet a fine display ended in disappointment as the Armenian was carried off with a left ankle injury following a challenge from Danny Rose on 82 minutes.
While victory means sixth-placed United are only six points behind City and three from Spurs, of Mkhitaryan’s strike Mourinho said: “The finish, the action [I like] because we recovered the ball high up the pitch and we were objective in that counterattack, we scored a fantastic goal, and it was so important for us to get that goal. The goalkeeper wasn’t the man of the match – that was Mkhitaryan and he deserves that – but it could be him, too, and also the post.”
Mourinho believes the forward could miss two matches – the trips to Crystal Palace and West Bromwich Albion on Wednesday and Saturday respectively – and may be available for Sunderland’s visit on 26 December. “It looks like next match no but it looks like it is nothing dangerous or needing surgery, so hopefully we will have Micki [on] Boxing Day,” the 53-year-old said.
United are 13 points behind the leaders, Chelsea, and, for the moment, Mourinho is focused on fourth place. “In terms of the evolution of the team [beating Spurs was not vital], no. In terms of that, the result is just a plus and if our objective is to improve and improve and improve and arrive one day as soon as possible to the title, the evolution would not suffer with a defeat,” he said. “But we still have our ambitions this season and to win this match puts us in a position where we can fill them. We are in touch with fifth, with fourth. We were six points from Tottenham. If we lose, it is nine.”
The victory was a first in the Premier League for a month and United’s first at home since late September, with United having drawn six of their games. Mourinho said: “To be honest, after so many matches playing well but not winning we need more the points than the performance but I knew against Tottenham it is difficult to get the result without playing well. We played very well. Tottenham is a complete team, so to win against them we need to play very well, which we did.”
Of the next two games, Mourinho said: “At Palace, it is not an easy match. To play at West Brom is not an easy match and to play teams that fight desperately for a point, Middlesbrough, Sunderland will be difficult, too. Winnable but difficult.”
Harry Kane’s loose pass allowed the United attack from which Mkhitaryan scored but Mauricio Pochettino refused to blame him. “That is how we want to play,” the Tottenham manager said. “When that situation happens it is football and we need to be clever enough to react. Our offensive players can make a mistake. They need to take a risk. We have a lack of reaction in that situation when we lose the ball and we allow them to score. They took our mistake and they score but in my mind, my opinion, we try to play in our philosophy, we try to create chances but in the end they won and we lose.”
Pochettino, who will have Mousa Dembélé’s hurt foot assessed, is not overly worried about the 10-point gap to Chelsea. “The concern is not too much,” the Argentinean said. “The Premier League is tough and Chelsea start the season very bad and for different circumstances they change the system and look where they are now. There is too much time to recover the gap.”
There was a heightened security operation at Old Trafford following the attack outside Besiktas’s stadium in Istanbul that killed 38 people on Saturday. United could be paired with the Turkish club when the draw is made for the Europa League last 32 on Monday.
Uefa’s president, Aleksander Ceferin, said: “Uefa would like to express its deepest condolences to the families of all the victims. We strongly condemn this horrible act and send our support to the Turkish Football Federation, Besiktas and Bursaspor football clubs.”
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