United’s teething problems under new manager David Moyes have left them way off the pace, 11 points behind leaders Arsenal and nine behind third-placed Chelsea, and defeat at Stamford Bridge would effectively end their hopes of staying in touch with the main title protagonists.
With strikers Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney likely to be missing for United, Chelsea will start strong favourites, although Mourinho warned his players against complacency.
“Read the match programme, my notes,” Mourinho told reporters on Friday. “I start by saying we don’t play against a team that are 11 points behind the leader, we play against the champions, we play against Manchester United.
“That’s the way I start my notes in the programme and that’s exactly the way I feel. I’ve been in the game a long time, I’ve played dozens and dozens of derbies and classic matches, games between the big teams and that’s what experience says.
“On many occasions, the team that looks to be in the most difficult situation appears stronger in the match, that’s why I consider this game especially dangerous.”
Mourinho is well-schooled in sporting psychology but his take on the 100-win landmark was simple.
“My 100th victory in the Premier League with Chelsea is going to happen; is it against United, West Ham or later? I don’t know, what I know is that the number will arrive.
“It’s the next match and if I can do it in the next match it’s better than doing it in three, four or five matches away.”
“We are going to try to do it against Man United because now we play two matches at home, after playing two matches away, and we have to try to go for the six points.”
This season’s Premier League title race is shaping up to be one of the tightest ever, according to Mourinho, and he says the immediate priority is to guarantee a top-four finish.
“If you look at the table, Arsenal and Manchester City are the top two teams. Man City have different ammunition but we are not far,” he said.
“Liverpool have a fantastic chance to do it, it’s almost unique the fact they are not playing in European competition.
“United are United, 11 points to the leader is quite a lot but I believe they will push all the way. The way this league is at the moment, I think for all the big teams the first objective is to secure a place in the top four because it will be difficult to get it.
“We are not desperate to win the title. We are building for the future, but we want to keep our DNA of winning.”
Mourinho said he would rather Van Persie and Rooney both be playing for United on Sunday.
“I’d prefer them to play,” he said. “The best thing is to play against the best players at the maximum of their potential.
“For us, the focus, concentration and motivation is bigger when they are there so I hope they are.”
Frank Lampard could be available on Sunday after returning to training following his calf injury but Branislav Ivanovic is a major doubt. New signing Nemanja Matic will also miss out.
“Matic will not start the game, I have to show respect to my other players who are doing well,” Mourinho said.
“I don’t think it’s the right message for them that a new player comes immediately and plays, so I’m not playing him from the beginning.”
(Writing by Martyn Herman; Editing by Ed Osmond)