Football: Europa League glory first and foremost for United

Manchester United's manager Jose Mourinho gestures during the match between Burnley and Manchester United, on April 23, 2017.
Manchester United's manager Jose Mourinho gestures during the match between Burnley and Manchester United, on April 23, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

Mourinho will rotate ahead of Celta s-final to preserve United's chances of silverware

LONDON • Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho said he is prioritising the Europa League despite his team being able to jump above Manchester City into the fourth Champions League qualification spot with a win in Thursday's derby.

United's 2-0 win at Burnley in the Premier League on Sunday takes them within a point of fourth-placed City ahead of the derby clash at the Etihad Stadium.

But, with the games coming thick and fast and injuries taking a toll on his team, Mourinho said he would rotate his squad again with an eye on the May 4 Europa League, semi-final, first leg at LaLiga club Celta Vigo.

Asked about the chance to overtake City with a win in the derby, the Portuguese said: "But if we beat Celta, we go to the final.

"Yes, it is important for us to play in the Champions League but this club want trophies. We cannot give the club the Premier League. We have a 25 per cent chance to win the Europa League, and we have to put everything on it.

"I will rotate the players again, I will rest some players again. At least in terms of expectation for the game, the emotions, it is better a derby with one point difference than with four."

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    Goals scored by Anthony Martial for Manchester United, which triggered an £8.5 million payment to his former club Monaco

One player who could be missing on Thursday is French midfielder Paul Pogba, who was replaced at the end of Sunday's game.

"Dead he is for sure," said Mourinho. "If he is injured or if it is just super accumulation of fatigue in the muscles, I don't know. But if he cannot play Thursday, he cannot play Thursday. Another one plays and we don't cry."

Having lost top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic to a serious knee injury in last Thursday's Europa League win over Anderlecht, Mourinho was particularly pleased with the way Anthony Martial led the line.

Martial scored his eighth goal of the season and his 25th for the club, triggering an £8.5 million (S$15 million) payment to his former club Monaco. Wayne Rooney netted the other goal for United.

"(Martial) was very good, with the ball and without the ball in the middle of two strong central midfielders, without anyone in behind him because we had no No. 10 just behind him. He was quite distant from our midfielders, he was very good," the manager said.

Mourinho also praised the performance of Eric Bailly at the centre of defence, but repeated his call for injured defenders Phil Jones and Chris Smalling to speed up their recovery.

"(Bailly) was incredible. If I was Smalling or Jones, I would play on Thursday. I wouldn't accept one guy to play nine matches in a row because I am injured. I would do a last push," Mourinho said.

Asked if that was a realistic expectation of the pair, the manager said: "If they have a crazy mentality like I have, they would (play); if they are safe thinking and they are surrounded by people with the same mentality as they have, it takes more time, it is more cautious.

"If it was me, nobody would stop me playing."

Defeat leaves Burnley (16th with 36 points, five points above the drop zone) in real danger of being dragged into the relegation battle in the final weeks of the season, although manager Sean Dyche remained confident.

"For us the challenge is getting points on the board and we're still in good shape, despite all the odds," he said.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 25, 2017, with the headline 'Europa League glory first and foremost'. Print Edition | Subscribe