Jose Mourinho believes Manchester United have been “really punished” by the fixture scheduling this Christmas.
As if denting Manchester City’s 11-point lead at the Premier League summit was not hard enough, Saturday’s trip to Leicester kicks off a run of four top-flight games in 10 days.
United highlighted their “fixture frenzy” by publishing research on their website showing that “United have a harder time of it than our rivals towards the top of the table”.
Recovery and rotation will be crucial if the festive period is be fruitful, but Mourinho is concerned about the impact it will have on his team.
“We are not the only ones,” he said. “There are other teams in the same situation as we are and Leicester is one of them in the same situation as we are.
“We did the simple objective study on that and there is a big gap – a really big gap – between some clubs and other clubs.
“There are clearly the ones that are really privileged, there are clearly another group of the ones that are really punished by the decisions of the calendar and there are another group in the middle of it where I would like to be.”
Mourinho laughed then added: “I know that I would never be in the top group, but in that middle group we would like to be.”
Put to him he cannot believe that is deliberate, Mourinho said: “It’s a good question. You want me to be punished again, right?”
The United boss is already on thin ice with the Football Association for comments made in press conferences.
Mourinho confirmed in this media engagement that he had not complained to the Premier League about the schedule, despite its potentially adverse effect on United’s already fading title hopes.
The second placed Reds cannot afford City to build any bigger cushion, but the gap has not seen motivation dip in their manager’s view.
“We are in the race that only ends for us in May when we play against Watford at Old Trafford,” said Mourinho, whose side suffered a shock 2-1 defeat to Bristol City in the Carabao Cup on Wednesday.
“When we play against Watford at Old Trafford, we finish the game and then it’s finished. Then, do we have FA Cup final to play? We have one more game. Do we have a Champions League final to play? If we do, we have one more game. If we don’t have, it’s finished, but until last match of the season we have work to do.”
The festive portion of work will have to be done without Michael Carrick, Marouane Fellaini, and Eric Bailly, while Antonio Valencia remains absent for the trip to Leicester with a hamstring injury.
Mourinho is, though, able to call upon Zlatan Ibrahimovic after the veteran’s speedy return from a serious knee injury, with the striker making his first start of the season with a first goal at Bristol City.
“Yes, he is an option (to start),” the United boss said.
“He played one hour, a bit more. Could be obviously ready to start the match. 90 minutes is probably too much, it depends on the match, but I think, yes, I think he is ready to start.”
Mourinho was less forthcoming when it came to Ryan Giggs’ criticism of United’s recruitment before his arrival, so too the FA deciding against sanctioning United or City for the post-derby fracas.
“You have to ask the people who was hit by a bottle,” he said as he left the press conference to hop on the coach to Leicester.