Tuesday 21 November 2017

Mourinho faces Cup clash with no strikers

Rooney and Rashford join Ibrahimovic and Martial on missing list for quarter-final tie

There will be no love lost when Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte go head-to-head tonight. Photo: Getty Images
There will be no love lost when Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte go head-to-head tonight. Photo: Getty Images

James Ducker

Jose Mourinho's preparations for Manchester United's FA Cup quarter-final against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge tonight have been plunged into chaos, with his entire strike force ruled out of the game.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is suspended for the match and United's hopes of retaining the trophy have been dealt further severe setbacks with Anthony Martial and Wayne Rooney picking up injuries and Marcus Rashford struck down by illness.

It means all four players will be unavailable for the game against Mourinho's former club and leave the manager with no option but to field a makeshift attack in a damaging blow to their hopes of reaching the last four.

The crisis up front could not have come at a worse time for United, who are in the midst of a congested fixture schedule, with Chelsea the third of five games in 16 days for the club.

Ibrahimovic will return for the second leg of United's Europa League last 16 tie against FC Rostov on Thursday since his three-match ban for elbowing Bournemouth's Tyrone Mings only applies to domestic matches and Mourinho will hope Rashford has overcome his illness by then but the severity of Martial and Rooney's injuries are unclear.

United trained on Friday and Saturday and again yesterday morning before travelling to London by train with a 20-man squad.

Wayne Rooney is set to return to Everton
Wayne Rooney is set to return to Everton

Rooney is thought to have collided with defender Phil Jones in training and suffered a leg injury in the process. The nature and extent of Martial's problem is not yet known.

Mourinho may now opt to use Marouane Fellaini up front or Henrik Mkhitaryan as a false nine while Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard could also feature in more advanced positions than usual.

Ibrahimovic's absence was already a concern for Mourinho but the loss of three other forwards is a cruel blow.

Rooney was expected to feature while Rashford - who has mostly been used out wide this season or as an impact substitute - was hopeful of being given a rare run out at centre-forward.

Chelsea will be United's 46th game of a frenetic season and the team has shown some signs of fatigue in recent games. .

Meanwhile, Mourinho added further spice to his Stamford Bridge return by claiming that Antonio Conte's first season in English football has been made far easier by Chelsea not playing in Europe and that their march to the Premier League title must be viewed from that "position of privilege".

The Portuguese, who will hope to avenge United's 4-0 thrashing at Stamford Bridge in the league in October, praised Conte for making the most of the situation but appeared to question whether Chelsea would be 10 points clear at the top if they had also had European football to navigate.

"The most difficult thing to have is time to work, and they (Chelsea) have time to work," Mourinho said.

Read more: 'Rats' attack, buses and moaning: Five talking points ahead of Chelsea v Manchester United

"I know that he (Conte) said a couple of weeks ago that it's not his fault that they are not in the European competitions - it's my fault and the players' fault.

"But the reality is that he got in his hands a situation where they have time to work, time to rest, time to relax, times to disconnect, time to travel, time to have holidays, time to go to America and enjoy America for a couple of days.

"They have time for all these things so they are in a position of privilege, the same privilege that Liverpool had a couple of years ago and they almost won the Premier League. But I don't want to say that they don't deserve credit for it.

"They choose a certain style of play that I think is very adapted to the qualities of these players.

"They defend a lot and well, and they counter-attack and kill opponents similar to my Chelsea.

"But the difference is they play with five at the back and I played four at the back, but the same criteria - a very strong team to defend and a team that kills on the counter-attack.

"They are doing very, very well and that is why they are going to be champions easily."

United, by contrast, have had the most hectic schedule of the top six this season and face FC Rostov in the second leg of their Europa League last 16 tie on Thursday - a game that Mourinho cited as being more important than Chelsea.

He said: "Am I sadder to lose against Chelsea than another team? No. For me it's just a game that comes in the wrong moment for us because the Europa League is a competition that can give us a Champions League spot and the FA Cup, it doesn't. The Europa League is more important than the FA Cup for us."

Chris Smalling has promised United will produce a far better display tonight than they did in their chastening October loss at Stamford Bridge.

Almost five months on, United have not lost in the league since and Mourinho has the first major trophy of his Old Trafford tenure with the League Cup safely tucked away.

"Chelsea have been by far the most consistent team in the league and they deserve to be in the position where they are now," Smalling said.

"But I think we are on a good run and we will give a much better account of ourselves than we did last time."

Smalling, in particular, had a torrid time when Chelsea turned on the style in October.

The England defender was arguably culpable for the three of the goals, but said he was hindered by an injury which forced him off at half-time of the preceding game against Fenerbahce.

"In hindsight, it was probably not the game I should have played in," Smalling said. "But as a player you try to push yourself and force yourself to play in all sorts of games.

"It was definitely one of our worst performances of the season. But from then on we have kicked on and done a lot better." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Chelsea v Manchester Utd, Live, BBC 1, 7.45

Telegraph.co.uk

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