And he has warned his stars they had better buck up their ideas or they could miss out on the top four.
United’s defeat to Tottenham in midweek has left them 15 points behind neighbours Manchester City with 13 games left and Mourinho no longer looking ahead but over his shoulder because the chase for Champions League qualifying places is intensifying.
“City are doing so, so well that they are not letting the others come close to them,” he said. “With the number of points we have and the improvement we have made in relation to last season, the distance would normally be a distance that leaves the fight for the title open.
“The fight is open only for second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth, but it is practically closed for the first. We are fighting to be best of the rest.”
It is the earliest any United manager in the Premier League era has conceded they are out of the race, but Mourinho has urged his players to use the rest of the campaign to build a platform for a more serious challenge to City next season by finishing strongly in second place and lifting either the FA Cup or Champions League.
“I always remember when Sir Alex [Ferguson] said in 2005-06, when we won the second title with Chelsea, that United needed to improve because Chelsea had raised the bar to such a level,” said Mourinho. “That was the ‘click’ for the improvement because in 2006-07 United won the title back. It has to be like that again.
“That is why every match until the end of the season is an important match for us. It is not just about the points and finishing in the top four, it is to try and finish second, try to play the best we can, improve the players individually the best we can and be the best possible team at the end of the season.
“Then we must try to start next season in a good way, like we did this season, but try to be more consistent and try not to lose points where we shouldn’t, like we have done this season.”
Manchester United will mark the 60th anniversary of the Munich disaster ahead of today’s home game with Huddersfield – who surprisingly beat them in October – with Mourinho insisting his team have made considerable improvements despite the “bad” midweek performance in defeat to Spurs.
“I cannot say we, Tottenham or Chelsea are doing bad because the points we have are very reasonable, but City started strong and kept going strong,” he said. “They have managed to win matches they didn’t deserve – and I give them credit when I say that – with that last push for a winning goal in added time.
“We are better than last season in every aspect, so we have to try to stay second. But it is not easy because there are some very good teams. We are doing quite well, with some negative moments – Wednesday was one of them.”
Mourinho confirmed that Marouane Fellaini is facing another spell out with his troublesome knee ligament problem.
Despite their surprise autumn win over United, Huddersfield boss David Wagner says he cannot afford to send his team out to play on the front foot, or they will risk suffering a repeat of the 4-0 thumping at home to Tottenham in September.
Wagner said: “Against Tottenham, we tried playing in their faces. The game was over after 30 minutes and we were 3-0 down. So we learned our lesson from that experience.
“You can get something out of games against the top six. To do that, you have to make life uncomfortable for them.”