Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has said he is ready to take the Bjorn Borg approach to chasing down Manchester City.
Mourinho’s side are eight points behind Pep Guardiola’s Premier League leaders going into this weekend fixtures.
City have dropped just two points in 14 matches this season, and have developed a recent habit of grinding out late wins.
Raheem Sterling’s goal six minutes into stoppage time earned a 2-1 victory over Southampton on Wednesday, three days after the same player had scored with seven minutes to spare to beat Huddersfield Town.
United have struggled to keep pace, despite winning 10 out of 14 league matches this season, but Mourinho has no intention of conceding defeat in the title race at this stage.
Instead, he has taken inspiration from the recent Hollywood movie about the great tennis rivalry of the late 1970s and early 1980s between Swedish star Borg and John McEnroe of the United States.
Borg and McEnroe met 14 times in tour matches between 1978 and 1981, winning seven each, with their contest in the 1980 Wimbledon final, which Borg eventually won in five sets, considered by many experts to be one of the greatest clashes in tennis history.
‘Game at a time’
Mourinho believes the messages in the film can help him and his players prepare for their league match away to Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday.
“I play a game at a time and that is the way to do it,” Mourinho told reporters on Friday. “Yesterday I was watching an interesting movie, Borg v McEnroe.
“Borg’s coach was telling him that all the time: ‘One point at a time; think about just one point’.
“I tell my players to just think about the game. It is just the game, it is Arsenal. We don’t think about how many points behind we are. It is Arsenal, and that is difficult enough without us being focused on other things. We focus on this.”
The often outspoken Portuguese manager Mourinho’s comments, perhaps surprisingly, suggested he sympathised more with the low-key personality of Borg, a five-time Wimbledon champion, than the demonstrative and controversial McEnroe, a winner of seven Grand Slam singles titles.
Mourinho was asked if he was more like McEnroe, and that Arsenal counterpart Arsene Wenger the equivalent of Borg. But Mourinho responded: “I love tennis. I don’t play tennis.”
Since taking over at Old Trafford in May 2016, former Chelsea manager Mourinho has failed to win any of his seven away Premier League matches against the rest of last season’s final top six –- Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal.
However, he has rejected claims that he is too conservative with his tactics in big away matches.
“It depends what you think about risk,” he said.
“I think in the beginning of football, the guy who decides to say defenders, attackers, this guy was bad. Everybody has to defend and attack, especially in modern football, so for me you can say what you want.
“My goalkeeper needs to know what to do when his team has the ball, how to attack, and my striker needs to know how to defend and what to do, this is simple, for me is simple.”
The United manager, meanwhile, could be without Nemanja Matic for the match at Arsenal, after the midfielder asked to be substituted in the second half of Tuesday’s 4-2 win at Watford with a muscle injury.
“Matic is a doubt,” said Mourinho, who is also without the injured Eric Bailly, Marouane Fellaini and Phil Jones. “Let’s see the feeling before the match, let’s see the warm up, I hope he can (play).”