Monday 20 May 2019

Why Man United's pre-season tour is turning into a farce as Jose Mourinho grows more worried about state of squad

Jose Mourinho. Photo: Getty Images
Jose Mourinho. Photo: Getty Images

Luke Edwards in Michigan

A difficult pre-season is threatening to lurch into a farce for Manchester United as manager Jose Mourinho heads into their final game in the United States against European champions Real Madrid without as many as 17 senior players.

United head for the humidity and tropical storms of Miami with dark clouds hovering over them and a manager whose mood flicks between exasperated and foreboding.

Fans packed into the 115,000-capacity University of Michigan stadium for the match between Liverpool and Manchester United. Photo: AP
Fans packed into the 115,000-capacity University of Michigan stadium for the match between Liverpool and Manchester United. Photo: AP

Mourinho has been on a damage- limitation exercise for several days, claiming after a heavy 4-1 defeat by Liverpool in Michigan on Saturday night that they are merely trying to prevent "ugly results" because of how weak the teams he can put out have become.

Already deprived of more than half of his first-choice starting XI because of World Cup commitments, injuries have now decimated his squad and Mourinho is worried as he moves towards the start of the serious business of a new domestic campaign.

It is difficult not to feel some sympathy for the Portuguese, who was already concerned about the lack of preparation time, so to lose players such as Antonio Valencia and Nemanja Matic to injuries that will sideline them for several weeks has been a disaster, although Mourinho had little in the way of sympathy for Valencia himself, stating the full-back's condition wasn't up to standard when he returned to training.

"Antonio came from holiday, I think too much holiday for him, his condition was not good when he was back," an irked Mourinho said after the second-half collapse against Liverpool.

United look in disarray less than two weeks before the start of the Premier League campaign, with Mourinho also painting a gloomy picture of their recruitment process, a source of tension that will not be easy to resolve, given there are only 11 days left in this transfer window and Leicester City are determined not to sell United's top transfer target, centre-back Harry Maguire.

"I would like to have two more players, I think I am not going to have two," said Mourinho.

"I think it's possible I'm going to have one, it's possible and I gave a list to my club of five names a few months ago and I wait to see if it's possible to have one of these players.

"If it's possible it's possible, if it's not, it's not. If it's not possible we keep fighting and working and believing in the players that we have."

Although international players such as Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku and David de Gea will be available for their first game against Leicester on Aug 10 at Old Trafford, they will not have played a game for three weeks and may well not have trained properly, either.

Mourinho continued: "I just hope the boys (who are) on deserved holidays, take care of themselves a little bit and some want to do what (Marcus) Rashford and (Phil) Jones do, which is to be back a little bit earlier because, for the beginning of the season, we are going to be in trouble."

Mourinho has to be careful. The short-term requirement for players to return to training early has to be balanced with the need to ensure they are recharged and rested after the World Cup.

He cannot put too much pressure on, particularly as he admitted last week that if players are rushed back after an intense international tournament, they can suffer burnout later in the season.

Eric Bailly and Ander Herrera are the latest to cause concern, after they played almost the full 90 minutes in both games against AC Milan and Liverpool respectively.

Mourinho has praised their commitment, revealing Bailly had asked to play against Liverpool when Chris Smalling started limping in the warm-up, because he wanted to protect United's young players.

Neither is likely to start against Real on Wednesday, with another friendly to come next week back in Europe against Bayern Munich.

"I don't think he's a leader," Mourinho said, when revealing Bailly's ankle is badly swollen.

"I don't think anything is going to change that. I think he's a team boy, a great boy and an honest man, honest to give everything for the team.

"That is why we still have him and why he is going to stay with us because football teams need people like him and Herrera, these kind of players, where the club is more important than anything else."

For all of the concerns about Mourinho's state of mind, there are also signs of a siege mentality building, the sort of environment in which he has thrived in the past.

The United manager is reported to be bullish behind the scenes, keen to fuel perceptions that everyone and everything is conspiring against the club. © The Daily Telegraph

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