Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has questioned why his South American contingent had a more difficult journey back to Europe than their Manchester City counterparts.
Antonio Valencia, Sergio Romero and Marcos Rojo have all been away on international duty, recently returning to Manchester ahead of Saturday’s derby clash with Pep Guardiola’s men.
Mourinho claimed the likes of Nicolas Otamendi and Pablo Zabaleta came straight back to Manchester after performing for Argentina, and hinted it gave them an advantage.
He told reporters at his news conference: “Antonio Valencia was able to get one direct flight to Madrid. Sergio Romero and Marcos Rojo went around the globe, Venezuela, Argentina, Europe.
“Manchester City spent money to bring them on a direct flight – or sent the owner’s plane. Our boys arrived this morning in time to train.”
One man not away on international duty was Zlatan Ibrahimovic, having retired from Sweden duty following Euro 2016.
Ibrahimovic, who famously did not see eye to eye with Guardiola at Barcelona, has rapidly become the United talisman and Mourinho was full of praise for the 34-year-old.
“Zlatan is a phenomenal player who arrives at 34 and still wants more for his career,” said the Portuguese.
“He didn’t want the Chinese money or the American US dollars; he wanted the most difficult place to play and win.
“Zlatan is more about him than us. Our contribution to him, in motivational terms, is zero. This is just his nature.”
Ibrahimovic will be denied an intriguing head-to-head battle with City’s Sergio Aguero on Saturday as the Argentine is suspended.
Mourinho denied his absence made United’s task any easier, though.
“He [Guardiola] could decide to play with [Kelechi] Iheanacho or [Raheem] Sterling,” he said.
“He could decide to play with [David] Silva as a fake number nine between the lines. It is clear that they have many options.
“That for us, in the preparation of the game, makes us have to go step-by-step with every situation because we are trying to reduce the unpredictability of the game. To try to do this now is more difficult.”
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