José Mourinho will field his strongest team in the Europa League to focus on qualifying for the Champions League qualification by winning the competition if results go against Manchester United in their next two games, against Everton and Sunderland.
The goalless draw against a resolute West Bromwich Albion at Old Trafford on Saturday and Sunday’s draw between Arsenal and Manchester City left United fifth in the Premier League, five points behind City in fourth. United have a game in hand, though Pep Guardiola’s side have a superior goal difference of five.
United face Everton at Old Trafford on Tuesday and Sunderland on Sunday, before travelling to Anderlecht for the Europa League quarter-final first leg on 13 April. The return leg is seven days later.
“I just want to think that against Everton we are going to do what we tried to do [against West Brom], to try to play with our best team and try to win the match,” Mourinho said. “And after Everton we go to Sunderland with the same perspective, and then after Sunderland the Europa League comes and I don’t know. Then, it’s possible that you see me play in the Premier League with a team where I’m going to protect the players that I consider fundamental for the Europa League. But only, only if the results in the next matches put us in a situation where mathematically, it becomes almost impossible to do it.
“I go with mathematics. Until it’s impossible mathematically, we keep trying. Because this week is a week without the Europa League, we have nothing to think about with the Europa League. This week is easy. From the focus point of view, it’s easy. We have to play Everton, we have to play Sunderland, and in these two matches we have to go for them thinking about the Premier League and nothing else. After that match against Sunderland, then we have Anderlecht and the quarter-final of the Europa League are very important for us.”
Mourinho was unhappy about the chances missed against West Brom by his attacking quartet, Marcus Rashford, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial. “It’s every day [they miss],” he said. “So I keep doing what I’m doing during the season. I give chances. I try. Play again. Come on. Keep going. You have talent. They know they have talent. OK, let’s go. Let’s try. Let’s have one more opportunity. No pressure. Keep going. There is nothing else we can do.”
Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Ander Herrera will be available again on Tuesday following suspensions and Paul Pogba, who has missed United last two matches, may also be fit.
Ibrahimovic has scored 26 goals in his first season at United but Mourinho did not believe his absence was decisive on Saturday. “We’ve had matches here with Zlatan that we drew,” said Mourinho. “He [missed] a penalty in a game to win it 2-1 [against Bournemouth]. He missed chances like other people did too, so I cannot say now that if Zlatan and [the injured Juan] Mata played, we win against West Brom. I cannot say that.
“What I can say is that Jones and Smalling, they would not play better than Bailly and Rojo did. Pogba and Herrera could not play better than Fellaini and Carrick did. That I can say for sure.”
Fellaini, making only his second start in the league since January, was one of United’s better performers but after an eighth home draw of the season, he admitted United’s home form has to improve, reports The Guardian.
“It’s disappointing, everyone is disappointed. We’ve lost a lot of points like that, but that’s football and we have to keep fighting,” Fellaini said. “There are 10 games, 30 points, so we have to keep going. There are a lot of big games coming and we have to be ready. There are six points available next week and I hope we can take them. Everton will be a tough game. They’re a tough team but every game will be difficult and we have to fight to the end.”
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