Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho put up a wall when questioned on his side's Premier League title chances heading into the new season and refused to answer whether he thought his squad can contend.
The Times' Paul Hirst gave an update from United's pre-season tour of the United States, when Mourinho wouldn't give a response to the question regarding their title prospects:
Manchester City beat the Red Devils to last season's league crown and finished 19 points clear of their neighbours, placing pressure on Mourinho to improve this season despite finishing as runners-up.
United are training in Los Angeles ahead of the opening game of their 2018 International Champions Cup campaign against AC Milan at the StubHub Center in Carson, California, on Wednesday.
The squad has been affected by absences following the conclusion of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, with many players still making their way back from their summer holidays.
Speaking from their base at UCLA, Mourinho suggested Premier League rivals Liverpool and Chelsea are more fortunate in terms of their player availability: "If you look to the players Chelsea and Liverpool have in pre-season, especially these two teams, also Arsenal, I think if you compare you see the difference of the situation. City and Tottenham in the similar situation as we are."
Antonio Valencia is an injury concern, and summer signing Diogo Dalot is yet to feature for his new club since joining from Porto. Fellow new arrival Fred has also yet to appear and has only recently joined the squad since he featured for Brazil at the World Cup.
While some managers might post a proud defence of their team's targets at this stage of pre-season, regardless of what signings had been made or injury concerns, Mourinho has opted for a different tactic.
Sport Witness posited that the United chief would have done better to offer a more positive stance:
The Daily Mail's Chris Wheeler noted the comments carried on a running theme on this pre-season tour:
Along with Fred and Dalot, the club have signed veteran goalkeeper Lee Grant, 35, from Stoke City, but fans were likely expecting a more rigorous recruitment after finishing so far off City last season.
This comes after Mourinho was similarly enigmatic when recently quizzed on whether the club would be completing any more signings this summer, per writer Chris Winterburn:
United have a little more than two weeks of the summer transfer window remaining (August 9), and they begin their Premier League campaign at home to Leicester City the following day.
The manager's public opinion on the title race this season may not affect results, but a dour-sounding outlook on the campaign won't do much to deter hope dissipating among the fanbase.