United are in a strong position to qualify for the last 16 of the Champions League having taken maximum points from their first three Group A games.
And they are expected to make it four wins out of four against a Benfica team yet to pick up a point and missing experienced key defender Luisao through suspension.
It looks a home banker but not to Mourinho, who will neither rest players nor allow any thoughts to stray to Sunday’s visit to Stamford Bridge – where United were thrashed 4-1 last season – with the danger of distracting focus from tonight’s business.
United needed a mistake by young goalkeeper Mile Svilar to win by a solitary Marcus Rashford goal in Lisbon a fortnight ago and Mourinho claims Benfica are better than the other two clubs in the group, Basel and CSKA Moscow, despite having been beaten by both of them.
Maybe there was some patriotism and loyalty towards the first club he managed but Mourinho certainly sounded sincere when he said: “Nobody here thinks about another match than Benfica. Nobody here thinks about Chelsea. So it’s just Benfica, the Champions League, and only Champions League.
“Our aim is to qualify. A draw is not so bad and 10 points would be okay to qualify but our main aim is to finish first in the group.
“Benfica will give us a difficult match. They have their own ambition and pride and will try to win.
“The players felt that it was quite easy to win against CSKA and Basel but difficult to beat Benfica. The game in Lisbon could easily have been 0-0 or 1-1.
“Benfica were much better than those two other teams, tactically and collectively. I was not disappointed with the performance of Benfica.
“In a small group, a bad result in the first match can give you a bad feeling for the rest of the matches. I’ve watched Benfica’s game against CSKA again and it’s difficult to see how Benfica lost that match.”
Mourinho gave no clues as to whether he will start with both Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford tonight. They have successfully ‘job-shared’ the second striker role this season with Mourinho clearly keen to keep both youngsters on their toes.
The policy seems to be working – Martial came on to replace Rashford and scored the winner against Tottenham on Saturday, his fourth goal as a substitute this season. The France youngster admits he is not happy with his super sub role but acknowledges the form of Rashford.
They have started together only in the two Carabao Cup ties this season and with Mourinho emphasising that Romelu Lukaku is “untouchable” it seems unlikely he will find room for both Martial and Rashford tonight.
He added: “We played Marcus and Anthony together at Swansea [in the Carabao Cup] one week ago so, yes, they can play together, that’s no problem. What you cannot do is play with 12. We cannot pay with everybody at the same time.”
Mourinho believes United are much better placed to make a long-overdue impact in the Champions League. Since reaching three finals in four seasons between 2008 and 2011, their record is poor.
They went out to Real Madrid in Sir Alex Ferguosn’s final season, the last eight under David Moyes and failed to make it out of the group stage under Louis Van Gaal as well as failing to qualify for the competition at all on two occasions.
“We played the Europa League last season and won it, so it is a logical consequence of evolution,” he said. “We are now playing in the Champions League and we are a much better than last year or three years.”
Mourinho will not allow any personal sentiment for Benfica or thoughts of exacting revenge on Chelsea to undermine his determination to reinforce that belief tonight.
Published at Mon, 30 Oct 2017 22:32:19 +0000