Europa league could be priority

United forwards Marcus Rashford (left) and Anthony Martial look to take up the scoring mantle in the absence of skipper Wayne Rooney.
United forwards Marcus Rashford (left) and Anthony Martial look to take up the scoring mantle in the absence of skipper Wayne Rooney.PHOTO: REUTERS

Mourinho suggests United will focus more on the competition if they progress to quarters

ROSTOV-ON-DON (Russia) • Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has said that his team will start thinking "really seriously" about the Europa League should they eliminate Russian side Rostov and advance to the quarter-finals.

United, who play the first leg of the last-16 tie in Russia today, are sixth in the English Premier League, three points adrift of the top four Champions League qualification spots.

They have, however, already won the League Cup to secure a Europa League berth next season.

Winning the Europa League also comes with the bonus of Champions League qualification but Mourinho said his priority was for United to finish as high up the Premier League table as possible.

"The Europa League is very difficult but it's a target for us," he told British media.

SENSING OPPORTUNITY

If we beat Rostov and we find ourselves in the quarter-final, then we have to think really seriously about the Europa League.

'' JOSE MOURINHO, United manager, on taking advantage of another deep run.

"If we beat Rostov and we find ourselves in the quarter-final, then we have to think really seriously about the Europa League.

"Quarter-final, you smell the final and then in a certain period of the season I have to analyse my team, the players, the conditions of everyone and if I have to make choices, I have to make choices... but it's not for now."

United head for the uneven Olimp-2 stadium surface with the hopes of becoming one of the few teams to win all three European club competitions.

United won the European Cup in 1968, the now-defunct Cup-Winners' Cup in 1991 and Champions League in 1999 and 2008. But they have never won the Europa League or the old Uefa Cup.

If successful this year, United would join Juventus, Ajax, Bayern Munich and Chelsea, who have already lifted all three European club trophies.

Mourinho has never lost in Russia with his previous clubs, but the former Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid manager is not happy going to Rostov to play on the bumpy pitch.

"It's a bad draw in every aspect. It's far and it's difficult," the Portuguese added.

"It's far and comes in a very bad period for us, difficult because they're a very difficult team."

United will be without defender Eric Bailly, who was sent off in their round-of-32 second-leg 1-0 win at Saint-Etienne. Mourinho also left captain Wayne Rooney and left-back Luke Shaw at home along with Bastian Schweinsteiger.

Armenian forward Henrikh Mkhitaryan returns to the 20-man squad after recovering from an injury incurred just after scoring the winner against Saint-Etienne.

Rostov - last season's Russian league runners-up - sent a clear warning to Mourinho's men when they routed Tomsk 6-0 on Friday.

But coach Ivan Daniliants said he and his players realised that United will be a completely different story.

"Manchester United are a top-class team and to oppose them is an honourable and a pleasant task," he said at a pre-match conference.

"It demands full mobilisation and colossal responsibility. Hopefully, we will come into this match on top, both physically and mentally.

"The match is sold out and we're set to give our fans a classy performance."

Rostov are likely to be at full strength, except for doubts over injured first-choice goalkeeper Soslan Dzhanayev.

After the trip to Russia, United will meet Premier League leaders Chelsea in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup on Monday.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

ROSTOV V MAN UNITED

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 09, 2017, with the headline 'Europa league could be priority'. Print Edition | Subscribe