Mourinho: 'I want to treat this game as a knockout'
Jose Mourinho has told his Manchester United players not to bother turning up if they cannot handle the pressure of playing at Old Trafford amid growing concern about the club's dismal home form.
United will qualify for the Champions League knockout stage if they beat Young Boys in their penultimate Group H match tonight and Valencia fail to overcome Juventus in Turin.
But United are the only team who have failed to score at home in the Champions League this season after a 1-0 defeat to Juventus and goalless draw against Valencia and they were booed off after Saturday's woeful stalemate at home to Crystal Palace.
Mourinho's side have not scored in four of their nine matches at Old Trafford this term and they are averaging fewer goals per game at home than at any point since Alex Ferguson retired.
Their current average of 1.3 goals per game at Old Trafford is almost half the total the team were scoring at home in Ferguson's final campaign.
Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford have not managed a single goal between them at Old Trafford this season, Alexis Sanchez has scored just three times at the stadium since his January move from Arsenal and, until his goal against Newcastle last month, Anthony Martial did not have a home goal to his name since January.
But Mourinho said he would prefer it if players stayed at home if they did not feel they could cope with the pressure of facing 76,000 fans at Old Trafford. He added that he would never entertain the idea of it being easier to play away against Young Boys.
"I refuse to say that - I think it would be a lack of respect to the stadium and fans to say we prefer to play away from home, I totally refuse to say that," the United manager said. "Do I prefer to play Young Boys here or go to Bern? I would say immediately to play at home. Always.
"If you feel pressure stay at home - and when I say home, I don't say stadium home, I say home home and watch on TV. When the people come to support, come on. I don't feel pressure to play at home."
Mourinho has also called for an end to the sluggish starts that have characterised many of their recent matches.
"I want the team to start strong, go strong on the opposition, not to be waiting," he said. "Probably you or the fans think, 'Jose told them to start slow and play nice and easy or to be waiting for them to react'. It is exactly the opposite. I want the team to go immediately and it is a bit frustrating (when they do not). It is not a crucial match because if we don't win we still don't depend on other results but I want to play from minute one like it's the last chance we have to qualify. I want to play this game as a knockout game."
United will be without Victor Lindelof for several weeks after he suffered a suspected thigh injury against Palace, with Mourinho hopeful of having the Sweden centre-half back for the hectic Christmas period.
But Lindelof's absence until then will provide a reprieve for either Phil Jones or Eric Bailly, who is quickly becoming a forgotten man at Old Trafford, the Ivorian's predicament symptomatic of the plummeting fortunes of some of the key lieutenants from Mourinho's first 18 months at the club.
Lindelof played on despite the injury against Palace but Mourinho questioned the heart and desire of other players after the game, just days after pointing a finger at youngsters Martial, Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Luke Shaw, who were accused of lacking character and maturity as part of a wider critique about the "spoilt" modern day generation of players.
Mourinho is understood to have told his squad that his words were taken out of context but several players did not see it that way, even if anger and resentment at the manager's persistent rebukes is starting to give way to apathy and indifference now.
Shaw became the first of Mourinho's targets to address the remarks, when he said he had not taken the criticism personally but admitted it requires a "thick skin" to survive under the boss.
"What he (Mourinho) said the other day, that was more a generational thing, I don't think it was really aimed as much at us as individuals," Shaw said. "You need a thick skin, of course, playing for the manager but 100 per cent this club, it's the biggest club in the world and we, as players, need to take what's said on board." (© Daily Telegraph, London)
Man Utd v Young Boys, live, RTE 2/Virgin Media Sport, 8.0