Mourinho downplays first United-City derby outside Manchester: 'It's a competitive training session'

The cavernous NRG Stadium, host of the Super Bowl earlier this year, will witness history on Thursday when the rivals meet in the International Champions Cup

FILE - In this July 17, 2017, file photo, Manchester United forward Romelu Lukaku celebrates after scoring against Real Salt Lake during the first half of a friendly soccer match, in Sandy, Utah. Manchester United is one of a number of European teams visiting the United States in preparation for the season. The team is among those playing in the International Champions Cup in several  U.S. cities this summer. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)
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Jose Mourinho has downplayed the first Manchester derby on foreign soil as a "competitive training session" as United prepare to face City in Houston.

The cavernous NRG Stadium, host of the Super Bowl earlier this year, will witness history on Thursday when the rivals meet in the International Champions Cup.

Beijing would have instead been the answer to the quiz question was it not for a quagmire pitch at the Bird's Nest forcing last year's friendly to be called off due at late notice.

There is unlikely to be any such problems in Texas, where the match will see typical American razzle-dazzle - highlighted by the fact rapper Drake will be "presenting the official game ball", according to the organisers.

Around 70,000 fans are expected at the home of the Houston Texans and, while bragging rights are up for grabs, United manager Mourinho's first thought is preparations for the 2017/18 season.

"For me it is a competitive training session that you try to win but it is not the most important thing," he said at the team hotel. "We had two matches against MLS teams, now it is time to raise the level and now we get three of the best teams in Europe," referring to City, Real Madrid and Barcelona, who they also play.

"I don't know the way they will face the game, if they want to win the tournament, the derby, I don't know.

"But I know what I want - that is to give minutes to my players, to try to improve, to make mistakes, to repeat exercises from training to stop those mistakes, to make the two new players try to understand the teammates and for the teammates to understand them.

"There is always a little bit of rivalry, a little bit of an extra ingredient, but for me it is a friendly. I am not going to jump to celebrate goal, or cry after any goal we concede. It is preparation."


There is less buzz around this match than last summer's cancelled friendly, which was due to be the first time Mourinho and Guardiola locked horns in charge of the Manchester clubs.

Having butted heads as managers of Real Madrid and Barcelona, the renewal of hostilities eventually turned out to be a rather meek affair - but that has not shocked the United manager.

"It was not a surprise for me," Mourinho said. "It was a surprise for the people that were selling the rivalry.

"We worked together for three years [at Barcelona], we shared a changing room, we were laughing and smiling with victories, and crying with defeats.

"For three years we defended the same club and our relationship was so good for these three years.

"After that he became Barcelona manager and I was Real Madrid manager in a very specific moment of both clubs, where one was the top club in Europe and the other one was a giant in trouble.

"The fight in a country like Spain became the fight of two clubs because the distance to the others is huge and the competition was all about us. It happened.

"When Pep came to England I was absolutely sure that with the type of competition we have in England, I was sure that it was not about United and City, or Mourinho and Pep. I am sorry if you are disappointed."

Thursday will see the clubs together as a mark of respect to those impacted by May's Manchester attack, with the worker bee featuring on both United and City's shirts in Houston.

This will be their first meeting since the bombing at the city's arena and the shirts to be auctioned off for the We Love Manchester Emergency Fund.