José Mourinho has described his former club Manchester United as one of the favourites to win the Europa League, although he maintained that his Tottenham team would fear no one in the knockout rounds.
United enter the last 32 of the competition having finished third in their Champions League group after Tuesday’s 3-2 defeat at RB Leipzig – something Mourinho has long opposed on sporting grounds. To him, Champions League failure ought not to be rewarded with a shot at the Europa League.
But with Spurs having already qualified for the last 32 – they face Antwerp at home on Thursday in their final group tie; win and they will top the section. There is the possibility Spurs will come up against United from the last 16 onwards. Clubs from the same country cannot face each other in the last 32.
Mourinho left United in December 2018 after two and a half seasons in charge, during which time he led them to victory in the 2016-17 Europa League. “Manchester United become one of the top favourites to win the competition,” he said. “The teams that drop down are always strong; teams that normally don’t belong to that level of the Europa League competition. Their group was very hard – with Paris Saint-Germain, Leipzig. We all knew that a top team would drop into the Europa League.
“Is it fundamental that we win our group? I don’t think it is. I don’t think we should be afraid of playing any team in the next phase. But normally the teams that win the groups are the best teams, so if you can avoid them in the next draw it will be an advantage.”
Mourinho was happy to acknowledge his record of having always qualified from Champions League groups. “It was sometimes more difficult than others,” he said. “For example, at Manchester United [in 2018-19] when we lost at home to Juventus, we had to go to Turin to then qualify [after a 2-1 win] in a very difficult group, also with Valencia.”
That qualification set up his successor, Ole Gunnar Solskjær, for the famous last 16 victory over PSG.
Spurs had to go through three rounds of qualification to reach the group stage of this season’s Europa League. On the Champions League drop-outs joining for the last 32, Mourinho said: “It’s not fair that a team that doesn’t succeed in one competition drops to another. It’s just a principle in football … if for some reason we don’t succeed – unlucky, next season.”