Business as usual at the bridge

FC Rostov's Aleksandr Bukharov (right) celebrates levelling the score as Man United's Phil Jones and goalkeeper Sergio Romero react to losing their lead. The tie is finely poised at 1-1.
FC Rostov's Aleksandr Bukharov (right) celebrates levelling the score as Man United's Phil Jones and goalkeeper Sergio Romero react to losing their lead. The tie is finely poised at 1-1.PHOTO: REUTERS

Mourinho has an eye on second leg but won't rest his stars at former side Chelsea

ROSTOV-ON-DON (Russia) • Jose Mourinho said Manchester United are one step from the Europa League last eight after a 1-1 draw with Rostov in their last-16 first leg.

But he will not field a weakened side at Chelsea for Monday's FA Cup quarter-final despite having 24 hours' less rest than their Russian opponents before next Thursday's second leg.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan's 35th- minute goal at the Olimp-2 on Thursday was cancelled out by Aleksandr Bukharov's finish early in the second half, but gives United a precious away goal advantage for the return at Old Trafford.

It was a good result after a long trip for a match played on a surface so bad that Mourinho had questioned whether the match should have gone ahead at all.

"We are one step from being in the quarter-final," he said. "We have that motivation and the fans will push with us at Old Trafford. Hopefully we go to the quarter-final."

The former Chelsea coach referred to Nicky Butt's role as academy head when saying his starting XI at Chelsea will not be filled with youngsters. "Monday we don't go with a Nicky Butt team," he said. "Manchester United are too big, we are the winners of the competition.

"It is not Chelsea's fault that we were given this Monday match, so we have to make changes for sure because we play Monday and Rostov play Sunday, but we can't go to Stamford Bridge with a Nicky Butt team."

Of the game in Rostov, the Portuguese admitted disappointment at his side's inability to stay ahead but said the outcome still suited him.

"You know, an away goal is always positive. It's better 1-1 than 0-0, but the game is open," said Mourinho, who won the Uefa Cup with Porto in 2003. "The result is open and this Rostov team, they have experience at playing big matches, big opponents and big stadiums. I don't think it's a problem for them to compete against us.

"They play Sunday against Terek Grozny, we play Monday against Chelsea. For us, it's difficult but we are one step from being in the quarter-finals."

Mourinho, whose side have already won the League Cup this season, also acknowledged the importance of the Europa League as a potential route into next season's Champions League for a team currently sitting sixth in the Premier League.

The United manager had a second-half spat on the touchline with Timofei Kalachev but the defender and his captain, Aleksandr Gatskan, are suspended for the return leg after being booked.

"After the match we spoke (him and Kalachev), we hug, we respect each other. We told nice things to each other. He told me that he apologised, and I said I was happy that he doesn't play at Old Trafford," the Portuguese joked.

THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 11, 2017, with the headline 'Business as usual at the bridge'. Print Edition | Subscribe