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Jose: 'No rest for Reds in top four battle'

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho is unlikely to give any first-team players a rest during the hectic festive schedule as he tries to keep his side in touch with the Premier League leaders.

United are sixth in the table, four points behind fourth-placed Arsenal and 13 behind leaders Chelsea going into this afternoon's home game against Middlesbrough.

"Middlesbrough is the next game and the next game you play to try to win," the 53-year-old said when asked whether he would change his starting line-up.

"So against Middlesbrough we are going to think about Middlesbrough and try to choose the team that gives us guarantees and chances to win the match."

Following a mixed start to the season, United have won five successive games in all competitions, closing the gap on the top four and qualifying for the Europa League knockout stages.

"The momentum of playing well comes from long time ago. It's difficult for me to remember the last match where we didn't play well," Mourinho added.

"In this moment we need points. So let's try to get three more at home at Old Trafford for our fans. It is a good day to play football, the last day of the year, so let's try."

Mourinho will be without captain Wayne Rooney, who missed Monday's win over Sunderland after picking up a thigh injury in training while left back Luke Shaw could return on the bench.

"Luke is training now with the team without any problem, but I don't think he is ready to start the game," Mourinho said. United are on a four-game winning streak in the Premier League and conclude 2016 with Middlesbrough's visit to Old Trafford on New Year's Eve.

It will see Mourinho reunited with his former Real Madrid assistant and coaching pupil Aitor Karanka, whom he mentored before the Spaniard branched off on his own to take charge of Boro.

"He's my friend, he's a real friend," Mourinho said of their relationship.

"I always want him to win, he always wants me to win. Tomorrow is the first time where I want to win and he wants to win. That's football.

"Sometimes, it's brothers against brothers, father against a son, father manages against a son as a player and that has to be even more difficult. For 90 minutes, I want to win and he wants to win and that's it."

However, Mourinho has suggested a change from the customary post-match drink usually shared between rival managers in England.

"In my office, he can everything but I think it's better before the match," Mourinho said. "After someone will have a bad face!"

Wayne Rooney will once again be absent due to a thigh strain and while Luke Shaw is back in training, Mourinho does not believe he is fit enough to start due to his groin problem.

Meanwhile, striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic may have exceeded the expectations of many in the first half of the Premier Legue season, but former United midfielder Bojan Djordjic is not surprised he has quickly become the team's leader.

A room mate of Ibrahimovic when they played for Sweden's Under-21 side, Djordjic predicted that the 35-year-old Ibra would make his mark at Old Trafford the moment he signed on a free transfer from Paris St Germain this year.

"He's not a loud player on the pitch but he shows it in the tunnel, he shows it on the training ground, and of course he shows it on the pitch," Djordjic said.

"When you need him, he's there. If he goes through a bad patch, he comes through it. He leads the team." Now a pundit on Swedish TV and for Manchester United's in-house channel MUTV, the well-travelled Djordjic was on the books for six years at Old Trafford.

Spending most of his time out on loan, Djordjic played just one Premier League game for the Red Devils, but he understands the club's culture and believes Ibrahimovic is helping them rediscover the aura of invincibilty that existed under Alex Ferguson.

"People are seeing some excitement, they need a profile, they need a winner, and Zlatan is a proven winner. If you look through the United squad, there aren't too many you can rely on when things get tough," he said.

The Serbian-born 34-year-old has seen Ibrahimovic develop from a coltish, talented teenager at Malmo to one of the most dominant forwards in world football.

"He's always stayed away from major injuries, he's always been one step ahead, putting things into his game to develop. He's not the same player as he was 15 years ago, he was more like (Cristiano) Ronaldo when he was coming through," Djordjic said.

"Somewhere along the line he became a goal machine. His reading and understanding of the game became better, because it was something he had built in - it's something you cannot teach a player.

"If you look at him now, he's always on the last shoulder, making unbelievable runs that leave him one on one with the keeper, even though his pace is not his strength."

If he scores against Middlesbrough today, Ibrahimovic could break his previous record of 50 goals in a calendar year, and Djordjic expects him to stay at Old Trafford for another season in a bid to win the one major trophy lacking from his CV.

"If they play Champions League football next season, Zlatan will still be there," he said.


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