Jose Mourinho did not care about Manchester United’s defeat to Arsenal, according to the club’s former defender Phil Neville.
United’s hopes of securing a top-four finish in the Premier League suffered a major blow as they lost 2-0 at Emirates Stadium, second-half goals from Granit Xhaka and Danny Welbeck making the difference.
But Mourinho had made eight changes for the game with the second leg of his side’s Europa League semi-final tie against Celta Vigo on Thursday in mind, and Neville feels the Arsenal match was simply an inconvenience for the manager.
Neville thinks seeing Mourinho smiling and laughing during post-match interviews proved his focus was always elsewhere as he discussed the decline in importance of the Arsenal v United fixture, once the biggest game in English football.
“It was a match between the teams in fifth and sixth place in the Premier League but it felt more like it was ninth versus 10th, in one of those dead rubbers you get at the end of the season,” Neville told BBC Sport.
“Yes, Arsenal won, to end United’s long unbeaten run, but nobody really cared – including United manager Jose Mourinho.
“It was the first time Gunners boss Arsene Wenger has beaten him in a competitive game, at the 16th attempt and after 13 years of trying. But watching Mourinho afterwards, it was probably the first time in about six months that I have seen him relaxed and smiling.
“It was a game that was clearly a nuisance for him, sandwiched between the two legs of United’s Europa League semi-final against Celta Vigo that he has made it obvious is his priority.
“So, for United, Sunday was just a case of survival – to get off that pitch without getting any more injuries – or at least that was how it looked.”
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) May 7, 2017
Comparing the match to his own playing days, Neville added: “When I played for Manchester United, Arsenal was always our biggest game of the season – the build-up was electric and I felt as if I was going into battle against our greatest rivals.
“In those days, between 1995 and 2005, it was often a title decider. Everything was completely different about Sunday’s game at Emirates Stadium, and it summed up where both teams are at right now.
“There is a famous picture of me being throttled by Arsenal defender Lauren in September 2003 – in ‘the battle of Old Trafford’ – while a few weeks earlier in the Community Shield at the Millennium Stadium I was booked after only 27 seconds for a tackle on Patrick Vieira.
“Sunday was a million miles away from that kind of occasion. I tweeted during the game that it was like a testimonial, and it was certainly played at that kind of pace – which is what you would expect from a pre-season friendly between two Premier League teams played in the United States.”