Saturday 27 May 2017

Jose Mourinho 'livid' as Uefa brush off pitch concerns

Manchester United boss fears for players' safety on Rostov 'field'

Jose Mourinho. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA
Jose Mourinho. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA

James Ducker

A furious Jose Mourinho believes Manchester United's Europa League tie away to Rostov should have been moved to an alternative venue when the last-16 draw was made a fortnight ago after condemning the shambolic state of the pitch at the Olimp-2 stadium yesterday.

Uefa confirmed in a statement that, following a pitch inspection, the match would go ahead as planned this evening, even though Mourinho claimed the surface was a safety hazard to his players and had thrown his selection plans for the first-leg tie into turmoil.

Mourinho may now rest players he had earmarked to start amid fears of exposing them to a heightened risk of injury before Monday's FA Cup quarter-final against Chelsea and was described as "livid" after a Uefa official laughed off his complaints yesterday and told him that his squad are insured "so if something happens, no problem".

The United manager, who claimed the playing surface was as bad as the pitch at the Bird's Nest in Beijing last summer that forced the cancellation of a pre-season tour game against Manchester City, would have supported the postponement of the match despite his side's backlog of fixtures.

But it is understood Mourinho felt a decision ought to have been taken at the time of the last-16 draw on February 24 to switch the game to a venue with a more suitable pitch.

Delegation

It was unclear last night if United had sent a delegation to do a recce in advance, although Rostov coach Ivan Daniliants, the, claimed the pitch had been in a worse condition after the Europa League round-of-32 tie at home to Sparta Prague on February 16.

"It's still hard for me to believe we are going to play tomorrow," Mourinho said yesterday. "I know we have to, but it is hard for me to believe we are going to play in that field, if you can call it a field."

Henrikh Mkhitaryan is available again after missing the past two matches with a hamstring injury but Mourinho said he did not know if he was now prepared to risk the Armenia forward.

"I don't know what team to play, really," he said. "I don't know if Henrikh is going to play. I have now a lot to think about because I was expecting something more playable. It was a very similar pitch in the summer in China when we and Manchester City decided not to play, but it looks like we have to.

"I didn't have any contact with anyone until now (about the pitch). I just had contact with one gentleman from Uefa when I was looking at the pitch and when I told him about my concerns, the gentleman told me the players are insured, so if something happens, no problem.

"In their previous matches against Bayern Munich, Ajax, Atletico Madrid, it looked for me a very playable pitch and I was very surprised with what I found here today."

Rostov did not train on the pitch yesterday in an effort to minimise any more "unnecessary damage" to the surface, but United trained as planned on the pitch. Several United staff were seen testing the pitch, with one voicing concerns about the risk of players' feet being caught in the turf.

Uefa accepted that the surface "may not be in perfect condition" but said it had "been deemed playable" after an inspection.

This is not the first pitch debacle for United in Europe this season. Their Europa League group game at Zorya Luhansk in December was briefly under threat because of a frozen playing surface in Odessa, Ukraine. Hot air had to be pumped on to the pitch, and Mourinho was also unhappy about the state of the pitch in St-Etienne for the away leg of United's round-of-32 tie.

Nonetheless, defender Daley Blind said they could not use the pitch as an excuse. "The pitch is not good, maybe not for safety as well, but it is not an excuse, we want to win here and try to play a good game," he said.

Daniliants had little sympathy. "There were no incidents on this pitch before because we already played against Sparta Prague and the pitch was actually worse," the Rostov coach said. "For sure we would like to play on a better pitch, like Wembley. But football is a contact sport and maybe players get injured anyway on best pitches with the best weather conditions." (Daily Telegraph, London)

Rostov (possible; 4-5-1) - Dzanaev; Mevlya, Navas, Granat, Kudryashov; Noboa, Gatcan, Kalachev, Erokhin, Poloz; Azmoun.

Manchester United (possible; 4-3-3) - Romero; Young, Smalling, Rojo, Blind; Fellaini, Herrera, Pogba; Mata, Ibrahimovic, Lingard.

Rostov v Man United, Live, BT Sport 2, 6.0

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