Jose Mourinho predicts 'trouble at Manchester United due to fixture congestion
They take on St Etienne in the Europa League round of 32 first leg with Mourinho eager to progress in the competition because it offers a back door route to next season’s Champions League but acknowledging it could have a negative impact on them qualifying through the front door – via a top four place in the Premier League.
United have already had to postpone their League game with neighbours City because of their participation in the League Cup final and if they beat Blackburn in the FA Cup fifth round on Sunday will have to postpone another League game to make way for their sixth round tie.
And a third League fixture would need to be re-arranged if they reach the semi-finals.
Man United stars joke around in training ahead of Saint-Eteinne clash
Wed, February 15, 2017
The Manchester United squad looked in a relaxed mood as they trained ahead of Thursday's Europa League clash with Saint-Etienne (8.05pm), but Jose Mourinho was struggling to crack a smile
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The Manchester United squad are in high spirits prior to their Saint-Etienne tie
The Europa League causes its own problems because the ties are played on a Thursday night leaving little recovery time for players to prepare for the Leagues games on the following Sunday.
League Cup final opponents Southampton, for instance, effectively ‘threw’ their FA Cup fourth round tie against Arsenal – they lost 5-0 at home – to give themselves 15 days to prepare for Wembley on February 26 but Mourinho says a club of United’s stature simply cannot do that.
He said: “We cannot choose competitions at Manchester United we play in them to win. We don’t throw away cup competitions even though we know that our situation is really complicated.
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“We know that the Europa League is also a competition where we pay on Thursdays and that makes it even more difficult for us.
Mourinho has confirmed Luke Shaw will not start for United against St Etienne
“The accumulation of FA Cup and League Cup and the match postponements makes it really hard for us. If we progress in all the competitions we will be in trouble in May.
“The Europa League is not a competition we want to play in but it’s a competition we are in and we respect it. The plus is that it provides another opportunity to qualify for the Champions League.
“It’s also a good way to give the team experience – international experience is always a plus."
Mourinho meanwhile has delivered another snub to Luke Shaw, who has struggled to nail down a regular place this season.
Wayne Rooney has been ruled out of Man United's Europa League clash with St Etienne
Asked if tomorrow’s game would be an opportunity to give left back Shaw some match practice, he responded by saying he would be keeping an unchanged back four.
“He’s not playing tomorrow because my team is playing well and I am happy with my back-four," he said, "and I’m going to repeat Valencia, Bailly, Smalling, Blind.
Mourinho has ruled out three players – Phil Jones because of injury and, Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick as a precaution because they are nursing niggles.
“Phil is still recovering from the [foot] injury he got against from Wigan. With Wayne and Carrick we are not speaking about injuries – I don’t want to call them injuries – we’re speaking about little muscular problems and protecting these problems.”