Jose Mourinho has changed his tune when it comes to the Europa League.
Nine months ago, when Mourinho was coaching a Chelsea side struggling for form, he was openly dismissive of the prospect of playing in Europe’s second-tier competition, saying it was a “different level of competition for a different level of player and a different level of club. It is not good for a big club to go there and win it.”
On Wednesday and now in charge of Manchester United, Mourinho was embracing it.
“We want to win the competition,” Mourinho said, a day before United begins its group-stage campaign with a match at Dutch side Feyenoord. “It’s difficult to do it, it’s simple to feel it and to say. This is the way we want to approach the competition.”
Of course, Mourinho is not the reason why United is in the Europa League this season. The team missed out on the Champions League by finishing in fifth place in the Premier League under predecessor Louis van Gaal, and United now must endure the Thursday-Sunday fixture schedule that many English teams have found so tough in recent years.
Mourinho believes it makes winning the Premier League this season even harder for United.
“It’s more difficult, yes,” he said.
United has taken a strong squad to the Netherlands, although it is missing first-team regulars Wayne Rooney, Luke Shaw and Antonio Valencia as Mourinho looks ahead to Sunday’s Premier League game at Watford.
On the absence of captain Rooney, Mourinho said: “He plays every game since the beginning of the season. He plays for the England team, 90 minutes the last weekend. I want him to be fresh for the next Premier League match.”
United is coming off a 2-1 loss to Manchester City in the derby on Saturday, the team’s first defeat under Mourinho. Feyenoord has won all five of its games in the Dutch league.