Wednesday 18 July 2018

Ibrahimovic and Lukaku add to Mourinho's woes

Manchester United's Romelu Lukaku leaves the game on a stretcher
Manchester United's Romelu Lukaku leaves the game on a stretcher

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been ruled out for a month and Romelu Lukaku for at least two games as Manchester United's festive frustrations mounted with a goalless Premier League draw against Southampton.

After being held by Leicester and Burnley either side of Christmas, the Red Devils served up a 0-0 stalemate against the Saints, with injury problems up front casting an even larger shadow.

Ibrahimovic was a surprise absentee from the matchday squad, while Lukaku was taken off on a stretcher after a nasty collision with Wesley Hoedt.

The Swede recently completed a speedy recovery from a career-threatening cruciate knee ligament injury but Mourinho offered a gloomy assessment of the Swede's apparent relapse.

"Zlatan is out for a month, the same knee. (It's) an incredible problem," he told BBC Sport.

"A 37-year-old man, a lion like he says, a real lion, but it's not easy. Now he had a little recurrence and one month out."

Ibrahimovic actually turned 36 in October, but if the rest of Mourinho's facts were accurate it is bad news for a club who failed to put away a Southampton side who came to Old Trafford winless in their last seven matches.

Lukaku provides another source of worry, missing a golden opportunity to nod his side in front after just three minutes before the clash with Hoedt and a lengthy spell of treatment which ended with him carried away in an oxygen mask.

Mourinho suggested the injury was not a drastic one but does not expect to have the Belgian available against Everton or FA Cup opponents Derby, meaning a heavy workload ahead for Marcus Rashford.

"I know normally bad news arrives immediately and bad news didn't arrive but to leave the pitch the way he did...we didn't think twice to make it (the substitution) immediately. It's because there is a problem, not just for today but the next two matches for sure."

Mourinho felt United might still have triumphed on the night had a key penalty decision not gone against them.

Craig Pawson did not award a spot-kick when the ball appeared to hit Maya Yoshida's arm in the area and that continued a trend of refereeing verdicts which have not gone down well with the United boss.

"A very good referee, one of the most promising young referees not just in England in Europe too, had a very bad decision that punished us," he said.

"I know my players so when I see people like Mata almost in hysterics I know, no doubt. And then at half-time I watch it. It is a penalty like (Marcus) Rashford against Leicester was a penalty, like (Ander) Herrera against (Manchester) City was a penalty."

Pellegrino may still be chasing an elusive win, having gone more than a month since the 4-1 defeat of Everton, but was buoyed by his team's character.

"For sure we are really pleased, not just for the point, we are happy because our performance was really good from the beginning to the end," he said.

"In the way we approached the game, good focus, attitude, personality. United were never comfortable on the pitch and were always uncomfortable on the pitch."

Television footage later emerged of United's Ashley Young appearing to elbow Dusan Tadic in the stomach during the game.

Young could face a suspension if the Football Association decides to take retrospective action over the incident.

Pellegrino said: "I haven't seen the replay but it is difficult for the referee to see in one second what happened in all different places - but I have to respect the decision."

Press Association

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