Saturday 16 December 2017

Jose Mourinho hands Europa League lifeline to misfiring big money signing

Henrikh Mkhitaryan has struggled to settle at Manchester United
Henrikh Mkhitaryan has struggled to settle at Manchester United

Jack de Menezes

Manchester United defender Phil Jones could be in line to make his first appearance of the season after he joined the squad in flying to Turkey along with Henrik Mkhitaryan for Thursday’s Europa League encounter with Fenerbahce, but Memphis Depay was a notable absentee after being left at home.

Jones has not featured since Jose Mouinho arrived at Old Trafford to replace Louis van Gaal, and has only made one appearance this calendar year which came in the 2-1 victory over Swansea on 2 January. The England international has struggled with a serious knee injury, and suffered a setback in September that delayed his return to the first team.

Another welcome face in the squad that left Manchester airport on Wednesday morning was that of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, with the Armenia international being left out of Mourinho’s squad since the 2-1 derby defeat by City in the Premier League in September. Mkhitaryan’s absence has caused concern among United supporters as to why over £26m was spent on a player who is not featuring, but Mourinho has insisted that Mkhitaryan will feature once he has adapted to the rigours of Premier League football.

Mourinho has stressed that he has no intentions of selling Mkhitaryan when the transfer window reopens in January, and it’s understood the player is determined to prove himself at United following his summer switch from German side Borussia Dortmund.

With United currently facing a defensive crisis, news of Jones’s availability will be music to the ears of Mourinho. The Portuguese is currently without £30m summer signing Eric Bailly after the centre-back suffered damaged knee ligaments to rule him out until the end of next month at the earliest, while Chris Smalling remains sidelined with a foot injury that has prevented him from travelling to Turkey.

Mourinho also saw right-back Antonio Valencia ruled out last Saturday as the Ecuador international underwent surgery on a fractured left arm, suffered in the EFL Cup victory over Manchester City last week. The losses meant that Mourinho was unable to name a defender on the substitutes’ bench for the weekend draw with Burnley, but Jones return could see him thrown straight into the matchday squad after 10 months out.

Mourinho has also elected to take 18-year-old defender Timothy Fosu-Mensah for the European match, with the Dutch teenager coming off the bench in the 4-1 victory over Fenerbahce at Old Trafford a fortnight ago.

One player whose fight for his future may be over though is Depay, with the winger left in Manchester for the Europa League trip. It’s not known if Depay has picked up a knock or is simply a casualty of Mourinho’s large squad, but with Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard, Ashley Young and Mkhitaryan in the squad, a decision has been taken not to include Depay.

The 22-year-old has endured a woeful time in Manchester since sealing a £25m switch from PSV Eindhoven last year, and after falling out of Van Gaal’s plans, he has failed to force his way back into the side under Mourinho. The Netherlands international has made just one start this season which came in the EFL Cup win over Northampton Town, and he is expected to leave United in January with both Roma and Lille believed to be interested in his services.

The only other omission is midfielder Michael Carrick, with the 35-year-old rested ahead of Sunday’s Premier League trip to Swansea where he expected to start in place of the suspended Ander Herrera.

(© Independent News Service)

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