Jose Mourinho praised Manchester United’s attitude as his side ensured they have “two doors open” to the Champions League with a 3-1 win at Middlesbrough.
Mourinho had claimed this week that a draw would be a good result for his side, given their hectic recent schedule, and he was forced into fielding something of a makeshift side at the Riverside Stadium on Sunday due to injuries and suspensions.
The manager’s faith in his fringe players was rewarded, though, with Marouane Fellaini and Jesse Lingard opening up a two-goal lead before Antonio Valencia made the points safe after Rudy Gestede had halved the deficit.
With United now just three points outside the top four and into the quarter-finals of the Europa League, Mourinho is delighted to have more than one route to a Champions League return available.
“I’m super happy,” he told BBC Sport. “The attitude of the boys was magnificent. I made them feel important, trusted.
“We organised the team to come here and do what we did until the second goal: defend well, don’t concede, be dangerous on the counter-attack, play with the fast boys in front.
“Until two-zero, the game was the game we wanted. Then they played direct football with Gestede and [Alvaro] Negredo, we brought an extra defender in [Marcos Rojo] to cope with that, but our mistake was that we let them push.
5 – Manchester United will end the day inside the top 5 of the Premier League table for the first time in 184 days (16th Sept 2016). Climb. pic.twitter.com/bh7ORY0Vva
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 19, 2017
“You are always worried, especially when you miss chances like we did in the first half. Anything can happen with big football, with tall, direct players. It was open until the end.
“I was exactly expecting this. I knew that that answer would be positive, according to the qualities of my players. I cannot expect Marcus [Rashford] to be Zlatan [Ibrahimovic], [Michael] Carrick to be [Paul] Pogba, or Ashley Young to be [Daley] Blind. But they have their qualities.
“The good thing is that the group is really United. It’s a group of friends, a group of guys, everybody fights for everybody. The spirit is fantastic.
“We have two doors open for Champions League football, so we will try for the Europa League and for fourth place in the Premier League, and see what happens.”
Mourinho admits he would prefer his players to be given a rest during the international break, but is nonetheless happy to have domestic and European commitments to return to in April.
“I would prefer the break for the players, not for me,” he said. “Do I need a break? Yes, I need two days. The players need more.
“Everybody goes to the national teams, everybody has two matches. Then they come back and we play West Brom on the Saturday and the Europa League is coming again.
“It’s hard, but it’s better to be hard but to be alive.”
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