Jose Mourinho expects this to be a “very difficult season”, despite Manchester United becoming a better, more attractive side.
The Red Devils crammed a lot into the start of the 2018-19 campaign, with an opening-day victory against Leicester overshadowed by galling back-to-back defeats to Brighton and Tottenham.
The 3-0 loss to Spurs at Old Trafford represented the heaviest home defeat of Mourinho’s career – a setback that ratcheted up scrutiny and pressure, but one they responded to with a run of three successive away wins in all competitions.
That form has lifted United ahead of Saturday’s clash against Wolves, yet growing optimism is underpinned by the manager’s sustained belief – first uttered in pre-season as transfer frustration grew – that this will be a tough campaign.
“I am optimistic, but a difficult season, yes,” Mourinho said. “For sure a difficult season.
“I don’t change that because we won two matches in the Premier League. A difficult season for sure.
“You see the level of the teams – you see the Liverpool squad, City squad, Chelsea squad, Tottenham squad, Arsenal improving. It’s going to be difficult.
Manchester United have bounced back from their emphatic defeat to Tottenham (Nick Potts/PA).
“I am not saying that we are going to have more points than last season because last season we collected a very acceptable number of points.
“But I think we are going to be a better team. We are going to play better than we did, so that’s what we can do.
“But I think it’s going to be a very difficult season, not just for us, also for the others because the others they can say exactly the same as I am saying.
“And they can say, ‘Oh, Manchester United, good team, good squad, City good squad, good team’. All of them, they can say the same thing.
“So, I think if they think the season is going to easy for them, I think they are wrong, but I don’t think they are wrong because they all know the season is going to be difficult.”
That the season follows a World Cup also adds to the challenge, a fact epitomised by Tottenham – the club with the most semi-finalists – losing three successive games since comprehensively winning at Old Trafford.
Mourinho believes any post-Russia hangover is mental rather than physical, with World Cup winner Paul Pogba inspiring United to victory in their Champions League opener at Young Boys.
“I think it is (a mental thing),” he said. “I think good results, good performances, they make miracles – and bad results and bad performances, they make you look more tired, more upset, more ugly, more everything. Football is a little bit like this.
“A team that yesterday looked very bad, today looks very good and yesterday looked very good, today looks very bad. I think this is more the influence of the moment.
“I think Paul came from the World Cup and he was the last one to come because he played the final.
“I think the happiness, the confidence, the self-esteem was what pushed him to play the first match almost without training against Leicester and played a very good match.
“It’s more about the moment and the momentum is very important in the positive and negative way.”
United certainly have momentum ahead of Saturday’s visit of Wolves after beating Young Boys 3-0 in Wednesday’s Champions League opener.
Marcus Rashford and Nemanja Matic will have to drop out of that line-up through suspension, while Anthony Martial will be among the other changes from the team in Switzerland.
Alexis Sanchez, an unused substitute in Bern, will come in and Mourinho believes the January signing, like the rest of his squad, has another level to go up.
“Sanchez plays tomorrow,” the United boss said when asked if Martial had put pressure on the Chilean.
“Because Martial played 90 minutes and Sanchez played zero.”
Asked if Sanchez still has another level to reach, Mourinho added: “Every player has another level to step up.”