LONDON • Jose Mourinho is in optimistic mood as he prepares to face an old friend in Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka, despite facing the prospect of being without his captain.
Wayne Rooney was absent with a minor thigh problem as Manchester United recorded a fourth successive Premier League victory by beating Sunderland 3-1 on Boxing Day, and United manager Mourinho admitted that a quick recall may be unwise.
United are not short of attacking options even without Rooney who, in any case, has become an increasingly peripheral figure at Old Trafford this season.
United can count on goals from elsewhere as they seek to defeat opponents led by Karanka, who was Mourinho's assistant at Real Madrid.
Swedish veteran striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, having endured a mini drought in the autumn, has well and truly put that behind him.
If the 35-year-old scores today, he will have netted a total of 51 goals in the calendar year.
"I'm happy, but I could be happier," Ibrahimovic told ESPN.
"I get paid to talk with my feet and that's exactly what I'm doing."
Midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan, seemingly unwanted during the opening months of the season, has also hit form and may be in line to start.
"The team spirit I see is just fantastic," Mourinho said.
"It is getting better every single day and I think that is showing in the way we are playing, because some of the football we have produced in recent weeks has been very good."
Karanka has thanked Mourinho for giving him the confidence to pursue a career in management as he prepares to go up against his mentor for the first time.
"It never really crossed my mind to go into management after I finished playing," said the Spaniard.
"But after working with Jose, I realised that any fears you might have about taking the plunge aren't important.
"He has a great way about him, a manner with the players and I learnt so much from him about how to make things work."
Middlesbrough are without the suspended Spaniard Antonio Barragan.
Former United defender Fabio da Silva is expected to move over to right-back to deputise.
MAN UNITED V MIDDLESBROUGH
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