Jose Mourinho vowed to use the rest of the campaign as a catalyst for an improved Premier League title charge next season after effectively conceding this year’s crown to Manchester City.
This is comfortably United’s best league campaign since Sir Alex Ferguson retired as a champion in 2013, yet Pep Guardiola’s swashbuckling side boast an eye-watering 15-point cushion at the summit.
The Reds Devils have been City’s nearest rivals throughout the campaign but Mourinho concedes the gap is almost certainly insurmountable with 13 games remaining, saying United “need points to be the first of the last”.
It was a surprise admission – albeit a realistic one – from the Portuguese, who is focused on cup glory and runners-up spot in a bid to help propel his side to a better challenge next year.
“I always remember when Sir Alex said in 2005-06, when we won the second title with Chelsea, ‘we need to improve a lot because they raised the bar to such a level’,” Mourinho said.
“‘They won two titles in a row, the second title was easier than the first’ and then the biggest manager in the Premier League said ‘we need to improve a lot’. He felt that moment as a click for the improvement of the team.
“In 2006-07, Manchester United wins the title back. It has to be like that.
“That’s why I think every match until the end of the season is an important match for us because it is not just about the points and finishing in the top four, which is important.
“But try to finish second, try to play the best we can, try to improve the players individually the best we can, try to be the best possible team in the end of the season.
“And then try to start the Premier League in a good way, like we did this season, but try to be consistent and try not to lose points like we did this season in some matches where we shouldn’t.”