Jose Mourinho and Manchester United need to be “very careful” that any conflict at the club does not strengthen Manchester City’s hand, according to former Red Devils assistant boss Mike Phelan.
Manager Mourinho denied there was any rift with executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward on Friday, during a tetchy press conference looking ahead to Monday’s Premier League home clash with Tottenham.
The Portuguese has nonetheless made clear his frustration over the lack of extra signings during the summer, which saw three players join – midfielder Fred, full-back Diogo Dalot and goalkeeper Lee Grant.
And after the season-opening 2-1 home win against Leicester, the failure to improve in defence appeared glaring in the 3-2 loss at Brighton last weekend.
Defending champions City, who United finished 19 points behind in second place last season, have taken seven points from three games so far this term.
Phelan told BBC Radio 5 Live’s Sportsweek programme: “I think what is there at the moment is fierce competition within the city, and if Manchester United are at loggerheads within the club I think it just helps fuel Manchester City’s cause more than anything else.
“And I think that’s something they need to be very careful of because Manchester City are a very big club now and they’re very well run and they know how to use certain situations, and I think that helps – unrest across the road helps.”
When asked if he believes Mourinho will still be in charge at the end of the season, Phelan, who spent five years as number two to Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford, said: “Results and performances will dictate that. The end of the season is a long, long way away.
“But he needs to now get results. He’s on the back of what was a disappointing performance and result.
“It’s all going to come down to a mixture of everything. Most managers are concerned with results, most clubs are concerned with results, but he has to perform as well – and the less said and the more action probably is better.”
The loss at Brighton was followed by a report that disillusionment about Mourinho’s methods was growing in the United dressing room, and there has been plenty of questioning of Paul Pogba’s happiness at the club.
However, Fred, who started the Leicester game and played the full duration against Brighton, says the dressing room at United “has an excellent atmosphere”.
The 25-year-old Brazilian, signed from Shakhtar Donetsk in June, told ESPN Brasil: “The media love to talk.
“The dressing room has an excellent atmosphere. From what I’ve seen since I arrived, no one has a problem with anybody. It’s the contrary. Everyone wants to help everyone.
“(The criticism) is normal. We lost a match. It is a big team, a European giant. It is normal that people talk, but Mourinho is a great manager.
“I am really happy to be working with him. I’m really happy to be part of this group as well, because it is a really good and closed group. We are all finding solutions to help us improve on the pitch to find our victories.”
Fred added: “No one is happy after a defeat. I was very angry about this defeat (against Brighton) and we could have gone top, but this is football.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t play well, but now we have a big game in front of us and we need to try to improve and look for the victory.”
After opening the Premier League campaign with a largely comfortable victory against Leicester, the Red Devils crumbled on the south coast last Sunday.
Their performance at Brighton was more of a concern than the 3-2 defeat and saw United come under the microscope, with intense scrutiny on the manager, players and background operations during an uncomfortable week.
Mourinho’s men have to wait until Monday for a shot at making amends and the United boss warned his players that they can ill afford to make similar errors against Tottenham.
The Portuguese said: “You know, just looking to Leicester and Brighton. Against Leicester we didn’t make mistakes, we played well, we won. Against Brighton, we made mistakes, we paid for the mistakes and we lost.
“So, I think you look at football in a very pragmatic way, normally you get what you deserve, so if we want to win against a good team against Tottenham, we cannot make mistakes.”
In our exclusive interview, the boss discusses moving on from Brighton and what he expects against Tottenham... #MUFC— Manchester United (@ManUtd) 25 August 2018
Mourinho, whose tetchiness in the pre-match press conference made ripples, cannot wait to be on the touchline on Monday.
United have a splendid home record against Spurs and come into the match after impressive training ground output.
“I think nobody is happy, obviously,” Mourinho told MUTV.
“But I have enough experience to know that in football you cannot look back for good results, for bad results and you have always to look to the next one. That’s our life.
“So, I’m really happy with the work we did in the week, with the players’ commitment and I look forward for the game. You can look at (having to wait until Monday) from two different perspectives.
“By one side I would say yes but, on another side, I would say we need time to work and some time to try to recover some players from injury, so it was not bad for us.”
United forward Alexis Sanchez, defensive midfielder Nemanja Matic and captain Antonio Valencia could all bolster Mourinho’s squad for the visit of Spurs.
Sanchez missed last week’s loss at Brighton through injury and will be assessed, just as Matic and Valencia will be as they push for their first minutes of the campaign.
Summer signing Diogo Dalot is also training as Mourinho looks to name a team capable of giving top-four rivals a bloody nose once more.
“That’s what we tried to do the last season,” he added.
“In big matches last season we managed to get lots of good results, which in the end are points like the other points in the other matches.
“But for the supporters normally it has a little different feeling.”
Alexis Sanchez, Nemanja Matic and Antonio Valencia are possible options for Manchester United’s
clash against Tottenham on Monday.
Sanchez missed last week’s loss at Brighton through injury and will be assessed, just as defensive midfielder Matic (abdomen) and captain Valencia (calf) have returned to training.
Summer signing Diogo Dalot (knee) is also training with Jose Mourinho’s men for the first time. Ander Herrera, Sergio Romero and Marcos Rojo have been United’s other injury issues.
Provisional squad: De Gea, Grant, Valencia, Darmian, Shaw, Young, Lindelof, Smalling, Jones, Bailly, Pogba, McTominay, Fred, Pereira, Fellaini, Matic, Mata, Lingard, Martial, Sanchez, Rashford, Lukaku.
Predicted Starting XI: De Gea; Young, Bailly, Lindelof, Shaw; Matic, Pogba, Fred; Rashford, Lukaku, Sanchez.