Jose Mourinho says he is considering playing stronger teams in the Europa League than the Premier League because Europe’s second tier competition offers a back door route into next season’s Champions League and could be easier to win than finishing in the top four.
Manchester United have been unable to break into the top four again since September despite an unbeaten League run of 17 matches.
Seven home draws – and 10 in all – have kept United rooted in sixth position since early November.
And with a congested fixture list in April and May complicating matters, Mourinho says he may have to concentrate on winning the Europa League.
Mourinho claims United may need to win the Europa League to qualify for the Champions League
Manchester United face Rostov this Thursday after beating St Etienne in the last round
United will take on Everton, who are seventh, and champions-elect Chelsea in April, face top four rivals Arsenal and Tottenham away in May and still have to re-arrange away games against Manchester City and Southampton.
And they will need to re-arrange another League game if they beat Chelsea in the FA Cup sixth round on Monday to reach the semi-finals.
Mourinho, who gave up on catching former club Chelsea in the title race weeks ago, says he will talk to the Glazer family, United’s American owners, and executive vice chairman Ed Woodward over the dilemma.
As United flew to Rostov yesterday for the first leg of their Europa League last 16 tie Thursday night, he said: “Finishing second position is very difficult but it’s still very possible. First is impossible. Second is possible and we have to fight for it.
Man United jet off to Russia ahead of Rostov clash
Tue, March 7, 2017
Express Sport brings you all the best snaps as Manchester United to Russia ahead of their Europa League clash with Rostov
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“The Europa League is very difficult but it’s a target for us and if we beat Rostov and we find ourselves in the quarter-final, then we have to think really seriously about the Europa League because in this moment we are still in the last 16.
“The last 16 we are still far away (from winning the competition) but when a team gets to the quarter-final draw, you smell the final.
“Then in a certain period of the season I have to analyse my team, the players, the conditions of everyone and if I have to make choices, I have to make choices, but choices that I would always share with my owners, with my board.
“But it’s not for now, for now it’s just play against Rostov, play against Chelsea, play against Rostov again and then let’s see how we are in all the competitions, and try to make the right decisions.”
Wayne Rooney and Luke Shaw have been left out of United’s 20-man squad, Henrikh Mkhitaryan does feature in the group but Eric Bailly is suspended after his dismissal in the last round against St Etienne. United will also have to contend with a poor playing surface in the 16,000-capacity Olimp-2 Stadium following the harsh Russian winter.
Rostov manger Ivan Daniliants said: “The pitch is the same for everyone but it will still be a problem. In the final of the League Cup, United played on an ideal lawn – it was like a carpet. When they arrive here, they will be surprised.”
Meanwhile, Mourinho would ideally prefer Marcus Rashford to rest this summer rather than play for England Under 21s in the European Championships.
He said: “I know that if the team goes until the end in different competitions every one of my players should finish the last game and disappear to some place where he could rest for a month and not think about football. Don’t move one leg, just move the arm to get the glass! Disconnect totally.
“He is a young guy. Maybe every experience – if he is not exhausted – can help him to be a better player. Let’s wait and analyse the situation when that comes.”