Alex Ferguson believes the Europa League offers an easier route into next season’s Champions League than the top four for Manchester United, even though he has claimed Jose Mourinho is “unlucky” not to be challenging for the Premier League title.
United are fifth in the Premier League, four points adrift of Liverpool, albeit with two games in hand on their Merseyside rivals, but face a hectic schedule over the next two months as well as games away to Manchester City, Arsenal and Spurs in their final five league fixtures.
Ferguson believes it is “not going to be easy” for Mourinho’s men to qualify for the Champions League via the top four but the club’s former manager is convinced United have a “great chance” of winning the Europa League. United face Belgian side Anderlecht in the quarter-finals.
“The season is still alive,” Ferguson said. “They’ve won the League Cup and are in the Europa League and I think they’ve got a great chance there. It’s very important now because if you win it, you’re into the Champions League and at the moment the Premier League is a real fight for the positions behind Chelsea with Tottenham, Arsenal, Liverpool, ourselves. It’s not going to be easy to get into the top four.
“They could do it but I look on the Europa League as a great chance. First of all, the club has never won the Europa League. It adds to the CV so I think we’ve got a good opportunity.”
Nonetheless, Ferguson believes United would be challenging Chelsea, whom they trail by 17 points with a game in hand, had they not thrown away points in matches they dominated at Old Trafford, such as the visits of Stoke City, Burnley, Arsenal, Hull City and Bournemouth.
“I get on well with Jose and think he’s doing a really good job,” Ferguson told Sirius XM FC, the US radio channel. “He’s been a bit unlucky actually because there are home games this season they’ve been absolutely brilliant in but have drawn them. If they’d got those wins they deserved they’d be challenging for the league, there’s no doubt about that.”
Ferguson also believes winning the League Cup against Southampton last month was a significant moment in Mourinho’s reign. “Winning a trophy at United is the most important thing,” he said. “That’s what the club’s history is about – winning trophies. I looked upon the League Cup as the manager [Mourinho] does: this is an important trophy. I was fortunate to win it four times. It doesn’t matter what the trophy is, if you get to a final you want to win it.”
Mourinho has a series of selection headaches, not least in midfield, ahead of the visit of West Bromwich Albion to Old Trafford on Saturday, the first of nine games in April for United.
With Ander Herrera suspended, Paul Pogba sidelined with a hamstring injury and Bastian Schweinsteiger offloaded to Chicago Fire, Mourinho is hoping Marouane Fellaini overcomes a toe injury that forced the midfielder’s withdrawal from Belgium’s friendly away to Russia on Tuesday evening. Any absence to Fellaini would leave Michael Carrick as United’s only fit, recognised central midfielder, but Mourinho has problems elsewhere.
Defenders Phil Jones and Chris Smalling are doubts after picking up injuries on international duty with England, Wayne Rooney is nursing a minor knee problem and fellow striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic completes a three-match suspension. Mourinho is also hoping Marcos Rojo and Antonio Valencia emerge unscathed from Argentina and Ecuador’s games against Bolivia and Colombia respectively on Tuesday, even though he has concerns about how much the travelling will have taken out of both players. “It is a frantic month,” Juan Mata, the midfielder, said. “We have to adapt ourselves to it in order to give the best we have in the decisive spell of the season.”