Jose Mourinho targets Champions League return – and Europa League trophy

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho was delighted with his side's attitude and desire in their win over Middlesbrough
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho was delighted with his side's attitude and desire in their win over Middlesbrough

Jose Mourinho admitted he would rather win the Europa League than finish fourth in the Premier League after seeing Manchester United bank three points at struggling Middlesbrough.

Goals from Marouane Fellaini – his first in the league this season – and Jesse Lingard either side of half-time put United in the driving seat until substitute Rudy Gestede pulled one back for Boro to spark a late flurry.

However, Victor Valdes’ late slip handed Antonio Valencia the simplest of chances to make it 3-1 and ease Mourinho’s men into fifth place in the table.

The Portuguese said: “(It’s a) big win because it keeps us alive in the fourth position race. It was very important to keep us alive.

“Do I prefer (to) finish fourth or win the Europa League? I prefer to win the Europa League because the Europa League gives us the same, gives us Champions League football, but gives us a trophy, gives us prestige, gives us a European Super Cup.

“So I would prefer [that], but maybe we don’t win the Europa League, so we have to fight until we can to try to finish fourth and it’s what we did today without many players, but with a great answer in terms of attitude and desire from all the boys.

“It is a massive victory for us.”

With Zlatan Ibrahimovic suspended, Mourinho handed Marcus Rashford a start and was delighted with his contribution despite his failure to find the back of the net from a series of good opportunities.

He said: “Rashford is in trouble to score a goal. It’s really difficult to score a goal for him, but his movement is top class, his dynamic is second to none.

“(He’s) so intelligent, so sharp, the first touch to put the ball in the best position to attack the space, to attack the goal. For me, he played phenomenally.

“Goals will arrive, no problem at all.”

The game was marred by an ugly melee after Gestede and defender Eric Bailly had clashed, and there was pushing and shoving in the tunnel after the final whistle.

Mourinho did not answer when later asked what had happened, but Boro’s interim head coach Steve Agnew played down the incident.

Agnew said: “I’ve been asked that – and I was in early – I didn’t see anything. Obviously I’m picking up now that there’s something gone on in the tunnel, but this group of players is so determined to start winning football matches that it’s no concern to me.”

Agnew was encouoraged by a battling display and remains convinced his team will get the points they need when they face the teams around them in the relegation fight.

He said: “To push Manchester United all the way was something that I was really pleased with. At 2-0, that’s when the players showed their fighting spirit. The crowd played a massive part.

“We deserved the goal and on the balance of play at the time although there wasn’t long to go, I could only see us equalising.

“I have every confidence and every belief, all the work that goes in behind the scenes with the staff and the players, that we are more than capable of winning football matches.

“The performance was intense, it was everything you want in terms of commitment. Of course we have got to start winning football matches, but I have been in this league before and I know that one game, one win, three points can change everything.”

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