Jose Mourinho has warned title rivals Chelsea and Liverpool that the Premier League title race will be “a little more balanced” this season.
A frustrating league campaign saw Manchester United finish sixth in Mourinho’s first season in charge, but that was largely tempered by their success in the EFL Cup and Europa League – and with it a return to the Champions League this season.
There were also mitigating circumstances for United’s disappointing Premier League campaign, with the club playing more games in all competitions than any other English side.
They played 64 games all in all, while Chelsea and Liverpool both played just 47.
And with five English teams competing in the Champions League next season, Mourinho expects a more level playing field in 2017/18.
“There is one thing, this season is going to be a little more balanced because of the fact the top six are all in European competitions,” Mourinho told ESPN.
“Not like last season, when Chelsea and Liverpool played all season one match per week, with all the others playing in Europeans competitions – especially us, playing in Europa League.
“Next season, six teams, and also Everton, are going to play in Europe and that is going to create a new situation for Chelsea and Liverpool.”
On whether Chelsea’s lighter schedule helped them win the Premier League, the Portuguese added:
“I don’t want to say it was ‘key,’ because if I say that, I don’t want to take credit from the credit that they [Chelsea] deserve.
“But obviously, to play one match per week and one, two or three days off during the week, have no injuries or no accumulation, the same with Liverpool, I think obviously it helps.
“Now they are going to face a different situation, but with the squad they have and the players they are signing, I think they are going to cope with it.
“Can we win it? We can, but maybe we don’t. As I was saying, everything is good and strong, but some of them [other clubs] are really strong on the market, so it is going to be difficult.
“Normally, the second season should be better than the first, because you know the club, you know the players. The players, they know you, the club know you can affect in a positive way the structure. You can affect in a positive way the people that work around you.
“So normally the second season should be better than the first, but again, this is modern football. The reality is totally different. So when I see the way other clubs invest, when I see the way other clubs keep their best players, when I see the way other clubs refuse to sell their best players, when I see the economic power to do it, it is getting much harder.
“It’s getting much harder for everyone, so we don’t know.”