Tottenham boss Jose Mourinho has said Manchester United are now one of the favourites to win the Europa League — but reiterated his belief Champions League clubs should not be allowed into the competition.
United crashed out of the Champions League on Tuesday night after a 3-2 defeat at RB Leipzig meant they finished third in Group H.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side drop into the Europa League, along with seven other third-placed Champions League teams, to join Spurs and Arsenal in the round of 32 stage next February.
Mourinho has never failed to reach the Champions League knockout rounds during a managerial career which also included two years in charge of United, most notably securing a famous win at Juventus to qualify for the round-of-16 in the 2018-19 season.
“I’m happy with [my] record because it meant my clubs were always in a position of progressing, economically important but also for the prestige. Sometimes, more difficult than others,” Moutinho told a news conference on Wednesday.
“For example, at United, when we lost at home against Juventus, we had to go to Turin and win there to then qualify from a very difficult group, also with Valencia. And of course now Manchester United become one of the top favourites to win the competition. The teams that drop from the Champions League and always strong, normally they don’t belong to that level of Europa league competitions and of course Manchester United is one of the top teams.
“The group [this season] was very hard. Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester, Leipzig, we all knew it was not going to be easy for any one of them. And we all knew that from that group a top team would drop to the Europa League.”
However, Mourinho repeated his frustration that Champions League teams were able to enter the Europa League at the midway point, essentially believing UEFA are rewarding sides for failure.
“It is a point of principle and if it happened to my team, I would feel exactly the same,” he added. “It is the way it is and honestly, brings more quality to the competition. We cannot forget that.
“When you have eight new teams in the competition and eight teams that belong to another level and they drop to the Europa League, of course the level of the competition is going to improve, no doubts. And when the quality improves, the attention improves. It is a good thing for the competition.
“But by the sports point of view is where I think it is not fair. That a team doesn’t succeed in one competition drops to another. It is the same thing as imagining the third team in the Europa League, instead of finishing, goes to a third competition in the hierarchy of European football.
“It is just a principle. In football, when for some reason we don’t succeed, unlucky, next season. But it is what it is and its not a problem for me.”
Spurs face Royal Antwerp at home on Thursday evening having already qualified for the latter stages but only a win will ensure they top Group J.