It was always asking a lot for United to win away at City for a second season in succession.
For one brief moment, a comeback looked like it may be on.
Romelu Lukaku came off the bench to win a penalty which Anthony Martial scored to halve City’s lead to 2-1. This was as good as it got.
City added another, and that was that. Without the injured Paul Pogba, United seemed destined to struggle.
An unimaginative midfield trio of Ander Herrera, Nemanja Matic and Marouane Fellaini showed Mourinho was simply going for damage limitation.
The boss speaks out
Mourinho’s comments after the game make clear his view of United’s prospects right now.
He told the club website that the team is simply now playing for a top four place.
It’s honest, and to be fair, he would be slated if he came out and said the team could win the league right now. United are in eighth, 12 points below City already.
Mourinho said: “We knew our second position last season was a fantastic achievement for us. This season we are going to fight for the top four and that is what we can do. We are outside that and we are having very difficult fixtures, double away fixtures, Chelsea away and Manchester City away.
“It is almost impossibly difficult for us to win three matches in a row. Now we have to go for it and to try to build on what we are doing.
We are outside the top four, how you can speak about the title. You must be in the top four positions. Let’s fight to close the gap and jump into the top four and then, one day if we jump into the top four, let’s see the difference.
Mourinho is right. United need to get to the new year inside the top four and then see how the table lies and if a transfer spree can help the team further.
There have been promising signs in recent weeks, especially the away win over Juventus. United should be positive heading into the international break despite the loss.