Wednesday 21 February 2018

Jose Mourinho wants injured pair back as top-four battle heats up

Jose Mourinho, left, wants Chris Smalling and Phil Jones to bolster his defensive options
Jose Mourinho, left, wants Chris Smalling and Phil Jones to bolster his defensive options

Liam Blackburn

Phil Jones and Chris Smalling were once again urged by Jose Mourinho to overcome fitness concerns and return to his injury-hit Manchester United side after they moved one point off the top four.

A United side missing defensive duo Jones and Smalling, as well as Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcos Rojo, defeated Burnley 2-0 at Turf Moor on Sunday as first-half goals from Anthony Martial and Wayne Rooney extended their unbeaten run to 23 Premier League games.

United, who are still in the Europa League, will now enter Thursday's derby encounter with fourth-placed Manchester City just one point behind their neighbours, but the accumulation of fixtures continues to come at a cost, with Paul Pogba now a concern for that match after he came off late on in east Lancashire.

With his options decreasing, Mourinho had last Thursday implored Jones and Smalling "to be brave" and take a risk on their respective foot and knee problems, and he once more issued a public message to the pair by insisting Eric Bailly's continued presence in his team should inspire them to return for the collective cause.

"He (Bailly) is incredible. If I was Smalling or Jones, I would play Thursday, with anything, I would," Mourinho said.

"I wouldn't accept one guy to play nine matches in a row because I am injured. I would do a last push.

"If they have a crazy mentality like I have, they would (play on Thursday). If they are safe thinking and they are surrounded by people with the same mentality they have, it is more time, more cautious. If it was me, nobody would stop me to play."

The Portuguese was unsure if Pogba had sustained a problem himself on Sunday, or if he was merely "dead" after a 51st appearance of the campaign for club and county.

"I don't know - dead (on his feet), he is for sure," Mourinho added.

"If he is injured or it's just super-accumulation of fatigue in the muscles, I don't know. If he cannot play Thursday, he cannot play Thursday and we play another one. We don't cry."

Thursday's game has added significance as another United victory would see them displace City in fourth, putting them in control of securing Champions League qualification at the expense of their rivals.

Yet Mourinho is also concerned with achieving that eventuality by adding to the club's trophy cabinet with Europa League success.

"If we beat Celta (Vigo) we go to the final and yes it is important for us to play Champions League, but this club wants trophies," he said.

"We cannot give the club the Premier League. We have 25 percent chance to win the Europa League and we have to put everything on it.

"I will rotate players again, give rest to some players again and let's see what we can do. In terms of expectation, in terms of emotion for the game, it's better for a derby with one point difference than with four. It was a good victory for us."

Burnley saw Swansea and Hull beneath them both win and were unable to increase the five-point gap that now separates them from the bottom three.

The Clarets have won just once since January and though boss Sean Dyche admitted the sequence of fixtures they have come through was tricky, he was keen to highlight they are still in good shape ahead of the final stretch.

"On paper it looked like a tough run and it was always going to be, especially with the form Everton are in at their place and then Manchester United 22 unbeaten before today," he said.

"We've cheated the system a few times in what people think of a game, but you can't do all the time. We've done it well here, we've played some teams who are well fancied here and taken 10 Premier League wins.

"When you look at the points on the board now and historically with our last two efforts we're in good shape - against all the odds, no-one gave us any chance at all."

Press Association

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