Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho says the club “don’t celebrate second position” after sealing the runners-up spot in the Premier League with a 0-0 draw at West Ham.
United are currently nine points and four positions better off than last season, Mourinho’s first at the club.
And while he said he felt “OK” about finishing second, he added: “I am not jumping around – that’s not my nature or my history. Manchester United are the same.
“We don’t celebrate second position but we are happy because for a few months, we realised it was impossible to win the league and, of course, the target is the second position.
“The top four is obviously important but it’s better to finish second than fourth and it’s better to be second for months and months and months than losing that position and that control.
“I think we deserved that, the boys deserve that and to be the runner-up is not bad in a league of this dimension and this difficulty.”
United, denied victory by the inspired form of West Ham goalkeeper Adrian, moved four points clear of third-placed Tottenham with one game left.
David Moyes’ side remain 15th in the table after securing their survival against Leicester last week.
Despite West Ham’s attempts to generate an atmosphere at the London Stadium for this fixture – by adding huge concourse motifs of their former captains and record-breakers – there were a large number of empty seats.
And the game was reflective of an end-of-season affair, with the only moment of note in the later stages a confrontation between both sets of players following Paul Pogba’s foul on Mark Noble.
“It was hardly worth talking about [the incident at the end]. The referee handled it well,” said Moyes, after the West Ham captain appeared to grab the French midfielder by the neck in a scuffle.
Audition for Wembley?
While unwanted results in this fixture (a defeat and a draw) contributed to United missing out on top-flight titles in 1992 and 1995, there was no such importance placed upon this encounter.
With Manchester City confirmed as champions on 15 April, United required a point to seal a second-place finish and manager Mourinho instead appeared to use the fixture as an audition for a place in his FA Cup final line-up against Chelsea on 19 May.
Deploying a three-man defence, the Portuguese boss made eight changes to his starting XI from the one that lost at Brighton, reintroducing the likes of Phil Jones, Alexis Sanchez and Luke Shaw.
Captain Antonio Valencia created United’s best opportunity of the first period, which Hammers goalkeeper Adrian expertly parried from Sanchez before brilliantly deflecting Shaw’s blistering follow-up onto the post.
England midfielder Jesse Lingard also restated his case for inclusion at Wembley with a lively performance that carried threat without goals – Adrian repelling three of his efforts.
As the minutes ticked down, United appeared to settle for their point instead of chasing all three.
After ensuring the club’s Premier League survival at Leicester, Moyes said he wanted West Ham “to look up the table” as he sought to end the season with a potential – but unlikely – top-10 finish.
Victory would have drawn West Ham level with Newcastle in 10th place – albeit with a significantly worse goal difference – but the hosts struggled to match such ambition as they exhibited the symptoms of a team that has failed to win consecutive Premier League fixtures since January 2017.
Despite the best efforts of Marko Arnautovic, who has delivered 10 goals since being converted into a central striker earlier in the campaign, the Hammers struggled to impose themselves.
“Our boys showed a great attitude after getting safe at the weekend,” Moyes said.
“We have conceded a lot of goals this season so a clean sheet is great. At this stage of the season you don’t get great games.
“Declan Rice played very well tonight, the boys at the back did a good job. With a bit more care we would have scored on the break.”
Austrian international Arnautovic appeared to have the better of United defender Chris Smalling from the moment he turned past him in the seventh minute and fired straight at United goalkeeper David De Gea from 20 yards.
And while that narrative continued, he too often cut an isolated figure as West Ham’s attacking threat amounted to just two shots on target and one corner in 90 minutes.
Man of the match – Adrian (West Ham)