Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho does not expect Chris Smalling or Phil Jones to be fit to face Celta Vigo in the first leg of the Europa League semi-final on Thursday.
United have battled fitness problems throughout Mourinho’s first campaign in charge, with left-back Luke Shaw and centre-back Eric Bailly forced off in the 1-1 draw at home to Swansea on Sunday, joining Marcos Rojo on the sidelines amid a mounting injury crisis at the back.
Fellow defenders Phil Jones and Chris Smalling are slowly nearing a return to availability, having missed all of April’s matches due to respective toe and knee issues.
Speaking after being held by the struggling Swans at Old Trafford, Mourinho was asked if the pair are likely to recover in time for the last-four showdown at Balaidos in midweek.
“I don’t think they will,” he replied.
“That’s my personal opinion. I don’t think they will. But I know the players I do choose, they give everything.
“So [it] doesn’t matter if I go with [full-back Matteo] Darmian as central defender, if I go with [veteran midfielder Michael] Carrick, [or] if I go with Axel [Tuanzebe],” he added, referring to the untested youngster.
“I trust the boys, they give everything. The spirit is amazing, the group is phenomenal. [Marouane] Fellaini and [Paul] Pogba, they will be back for that game. So, a little bit more options. And with everything we have, we try. We go until the end.”
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Mourinho repeated his strident criticism of English football’s authorities for what he deems to be a failure to afford his team more rest at crucial moments in the campaign.
“You cannot be punished if you play the League Cup final,” he said.
“Why don’t you stop the competition when you play the final? Imagine if we were also in the FA Cup semi-final, which we should [be]. Imagine if we go to the FA Cup semi-finals, last week we would have been playing Tottenham.
“So last week, when we played Burnley, that Burnley game would be also a game to play later. When? After the FA Cup final? In June? In the next pre-season?
“In the end it was a [blessing] that we weren’t in the FA Cup semi-final. You are punished because you are doing well.”
Mourinho raised the prospect of being forced to field a youth team on the last day of the league season should his depleted senior side reach the Europa League decider.
“If we beat Celta, we have the final on the Wednesday. And we play against Crystal Palace on the Sunday [before],” he said.
“And we play Southampton away two [sic, four] days before. We would be playing the final in a disaster [of] consequences.
“Maybe I can bring Nicky Butt and his team to play against Crystal Palace. And hopefully Crystal Palace doesn’t need the game to stay in the division, because it would be very bad for us to play the game with the Under-23s.”
The United boss also rejected suggestions young striker Marcus Rashford dived to win the penalty that Wayne Rooney dispatched to give them the lead against Swansea.
“I don’t have a view because I didn’t watch,” he said.
“I have Marcus’ opinion and he says the goalkeeper touched him.”
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