Devils down to bare bones

Axel Tuanzebe
Axel TuanzebePHOTO: REUTERS

Rooney could be a midfield option, given their dire situation with only 13 fit outfield players

LONDON • Manchester United's injury crisis is so acute that Jose Mourinho may return Wayne Rooney to the starting line-up in midfield for today's Premier League game at home against Swansea City - where the manager said he would never play the striker.

Mourinho said jokingly on Friday that he might even play himself in a game for which he has only 13 fit senior outfield players, after Marouane Fellaini (red card) and Timothy Fosu-Mensah (dislocated shoulder) added their names to the Red Devils' long list of absentees after the goalless draw with Manchester City on Thursday.

Luckily for Mourinho, the English Football Association has decided against extending Fellaini's ban to four matches even though the Belgian midfielder refused to leave the field of play immediately.

But, with Paul Pogba sidelined because of muscle fatigue, Mourinho still has only two central midfielders to choose from to face Swansea, and one of those is Michael Carrick, who at 35 could be rested before Thursday's Europa League semi-final first leg away to Celta Vigo.

That means Rooney could be drafted into midfield to help Mourinho's patched-up side.

"For me he will be a No. 9 or a No. 10 or a nine-and-a-half," Mourinho said after becoming manager in July. "He will never be a No. 6 or even a No. 8."

  • Who is Axel Tuanzebe?

  • BORN
    November 14, 1997, in Bunia, Democratic Republic of Congo

  • POSITION
    Centre-back

  • HEIGHT
    1.85m

  • BACKGROUND
    Grew up in Rochdale. Joined United's academy aged eight and named captain of the under-18 side at 16. Two years ago he followed Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Danny Welbeck by winning the Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year award. Physically imposing but also comfortable on the ball. Praised for his communication skills.

  • CAREER
    Represented England Under-19 and Under-20. Made his United debut as a substitute for the final 22 minutes in the 4-0 FA Cup win over Wigan Athletic in January.

Academy product Axel Tuanzebe could make his full debut today, and Mourinho has had to revise his opinion of Rooney as a midfielder.

"Yes, he's an option (in midfield)," the manager said.

"We don't have (any other players there). We have (Ander) Herrera and Carrick and nothing else. Pogba will be back for Celta. Timothy Fosu-Mensah could have been used there in an emergency to help the team, but he's another one that we will miss, so we are in trouble but we will fight, that's for sure."

Luke Shaw, Jesse Lingard and Ashley Young are expected to come into the side after being on the bench on Thursday night, while Tuanzebe is being considered as a potential replacement for Eric Bailly, who needs a rest after starting the past 10 matches.

"It's (between) Axel, Eric and Daley (Blind)," Mourinho said. "I have to speak with them. I can also be an option. (It could be) Mourinho and Tuanzebe against Swansea."

Paul Clement, the Swansea coach, stressed the 18th-placed Welsh club would be the underdogs at Old Trafford.

"United have been playing Thursday and Sunday for many weeks now, and they have an injury list which I'm sure the manager is not happy with," he said. "But we know it will not be easy. You always hope when you play a big team at their stadium that they have a slightly off-day and you have a chance."

Clement hopes that midfielder Jack Cork (ankle) and defender Martin Olsson (hamstring) will recover in time for today's match. But winger Wayne Routledge has been ruled out due to a hernia operation.

THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 30, 2017, with the headline 'Devils down to bare bones'. Print Edition | Subscribe