Football: Jose must face Pep with depleted squad

Jose Mourinho (left) and Pep Guardiola watching from the touchline during the English Premier League football match between Manchester United and Manchester City.
Jose Mourinho (left) and Pep Guardiola watching from the touchline during the English Premier League football match between Manchester United and Manchester City.PHOTO: AFP

Pogba heads United's injury list for derby with Champions League qualification at stake

LONDON • Jose Mourinho has been left disappointed after Chris Smalling and Phil Jones declined to meet his challenge by rushing back from injury for a derby that will also go ahead without Paul Pogba.

The Manchester United manager's insistence that Marcos Rojo's long-term knee injury meant it was time for Smalling and Jones to be braver has failed to coax either player back for the game at Manchester City. Pogba will be missing because of a hamstring injury.

The news about his two centre-backs is a setback for Mourinho after he made two public challenges in the last week.

Smalling came out of a protective knee brace last week while Jones is recovering from a broken toe but an unsympathetic Mourinho had said that, had it been himself injured, he would have declared himself available within 24 hours.

In better news for United, Ander Herrera and Antonio Valencia are available for the fourth-against- fifth encounter at the Etihad Stadium.=

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    Points wasteful Man City dropped at home this season.

Asked if Pogba and Herrera are fit, Mourinho replied yesterday: "Paul no, Ander yes."

Pogba's absence makes Mourinho's task more difficult against his old foe Pep Guardiola but he refused to accept that finishing above City would give him any satisfaction. Instead, he cited Champions League football as the aim.

"But if they finish third and we finish fourth, they are above us but it means a lot," he said.

Guardiola said yesterday that City must improve their home form as they try to salvage their season with a top-four finish.

The Catalan is set to end a season without a trophy for the first time as a manager, following last Sunday's FA Cup semi-final defeat by Arsenal at Wembley.

City will drop to fifth if they lose to United today, having dropped 15 points at home this season, a significant factor in their failure to build a serious title challenge.

Guardiola's side, on 64 points, are 14 points behind leaders Chelsea and are unlikely to finish higher than third. Second-placed Tottenham Hotspur have 71 points while third-placed Liverpool have 66.

But four of City's final six matches are at the Etihad, and Guardiola made it clear that their home form will dictate which European competition they qualify for.

"Our qualification for the Champions League depends on our games at home," he said. "Today, the mood is better than yesterday and tomorrow it will be better than today. It (the Arsenal loss) is over."

Playmaker David Silva is a major doubt to face United with the knee injury he suffered against Arsenal.

Guardiola is more hopeful that striker Sergio Aguero will recover in time to play, while fellow striker Gabriel Jesus could also be involved. Aguero came off during extra-time on Sunday, suffering the effects of a knee in the back from Laurent Koscielny. Jesus is close to full fitness, having been out since breaking a bone in his foot in the 2-0 win at Bournemouth on Feb 13.

Guardiola said: "Gabriel has no pain at all, so is ready, but after nearly three months out, his condition is not optimal. Sergio is much better."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 27, 2017, with the headline 'Jose must face pep with depleted squad'. Print Edition | Subscribe