City dominated at the Etihad on Sunday to run out 3-1 winners, but Manchester United boss Mourinho said they had an unfair advantage leading into the clash – with three home games in a row.
Mourinho insisted his United players were mentally and physically drained for what was their third consecutive away game — including Wednesday’s famous comeback win over Juventus in Turin — whereas City had been able to conserve energy in Manchester.
United, who also had to go to Bournemouth, now trail their ‘noisy neighbours’ by 12 points. They are down in eighth place, as close to third-bottom Cardiff as to leaders City — and have the only negative goal difference in the top half of the table.
“Everybody has to agree,” said Mourinho. “It’s one thing to go to Juventus and play against one of the best teams in the world for 90 minutes. Another thing is to beat Shakhtar Donetsk at home 6-0 and be very relaxed.
“We arrived in different circumstances, in a week where City played three home matches and we played three matches away. In a week where they enjoyed 6-1 and 6-0 victories – relaxed, no pressure, no mental effort, everything nice and easy, and we played two matches away, difficult ones, where the second one was like a final for us against one of the best teams in Europe.
“The Juventus game was one that demanded from us everything we had to give, not just physically but also mentally.
“When I speak about physical fatigue and mental fatigue, that leads to mistakes during the game. The game against Juventus was hard by the physical and mental point of view.
“So when I analyse the game, you can go for stats, which is the way people who don’t understand football analyse it. I go for what I feel and I watch in the game, and the game was there until the 86th minute [when City scored the game’s final goal].
“The performance, mentality, togetherness, the fight until the end was something we are building, and we’re not going to lose that because of a defeat.”
Opposite number Pep Guardiola hailed his players for the character they showed in overcoming United to reclaim top spot from Liverpool, who had gone above them after beating bottom side Fulham earlier in the day.
But Guardiola is convinced City, who won the title last season by a record-breaking margin of 19 points, are going to be pushed all the way this season.
“Liverpool and Chelsea, even Arsenal and Tottenham , they have numbers to be champions,” he said. “Not just Manchester City.
Guardiola had an animated exchange with Raheem Sterling after the final whistle, after the winger had angered United players by doing step-overs as he tried to run the clock down.
The City boss praised Sterling, but warned him against showboating: “The best way to defend a result is to keep to the ball. He made some movements with the legs. We can avoid it but he is young, he can improve.”