Mourinho's chance to catch a breather

Jose Mourinho has always recognised England's junior cup competition is more winnable and tends to prioritise accordingly.
Jose Mourinho has always recognised England's junior cup competition is more winnable and tends to prioritise accordingly.PHOTO: REUTERS

FA Cup tie with Reading, led by returning Stam, offers United coach an opportunity to rotate

It was a moment to highlight the FA Cup's declining status. Deep in the bowels of Wembley last May, Louis van Gaal should have been celebrating Manchester United's first FA Cup in 12 years.

Instead he was confronted by his wife, telling him Jose Mourinho was about to replace him. She was right.

As van Gaal can testify, winning this competition is not enough to save a United manager's job. As David Moyes can confirm, going out at home in the third round scarcely helps either.

Mourinho suffered one of the FA Cup's greatest shocks, Chelsea's 4-2 defeat to League One side Bradford in 2015. But even as the Portuguese goes looking for an eighth successive victory, this is the least important game of his week.

It concludes with a date against Liverpool and includes Tuesday's League Cup semi-final against Hull. Mourinho has always recognised England's junior cup competition is more winnable and tends to prioritise accordingly.

  • FA CUP 3RD ROUND

  • Selected fixtures (Roman numerals denote division of non -Premier League clubs)

    TODAY

    Manchester United v Reading (II)

    Ch109, 8.20pm

    Bolton (III) v Crystal Palace Everton v Leicester

    Hull City v Swansea Millwall (III) v Bournemouth

    Norwich (II) v Southampton Stoke v Wolverhampton (II)

    Sunderland v Burnley Watford v Burton Albion (II) West Brom v Derby County (II) Preston North End (II) v Arsenal Ch109, tomorrow, 1.20am


    TOMORROW

    Liverpool v Plymouth (IV) Ch109, 9.20pm

    Chelsea v Peterborough (III) Ch110, 10.50pm

    Middlesbrough v Sheffield Wednesday (II) Tottenham v Aston Villa (II) Ch109, 11.50pm


    MONDAY

    Cambridge (IV) v Leeds (II) Ch109, Tuesday, 3.40am

    All on Singtel TV

He tends to rotate less than most managers. Given the proximity of bigger games and the demands of a draining festive fixture list, this may be an exception.

The 35-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic has played in 28 of United's 30 games. Paul Pogba has started 26 of the last 28. Each could surely benefit with a rest. So, too, Michael Carrick's ageing legs.

So this could be a chance for Mourinho's squad players, even if some of them are decorated understudies.

Perhaps the World Cup winner Bastian Schweinsteiger will make a belated first start of the season. Wayne Rooney, for one, will get the chance to equal Bobby Charlton's United goal record.

Ashley Young, Marouane Fellaini, Anthony Martial and Sergio Romero may all be seen. So too Chris Smalling and Jesse Lingard, two of whom had contrasting fortunes in last year's final.

They will not be United's only champions on show. Jaap Stam was a member of their 1999 Treble-winning side.

Alex Ferguson made few mistakes in his long reign and admitted to still fewer but even the managerial knight came to accept that forcing the defender to leave was one.

The Dutchman was 29 and one of the best centre-backs in the world when the Scot cornered him at a petrol station to say he was going to Lazio.

Almost 16 years later, Stam will finally appear at Old Trafford again. Not as a player, but a manager, and with the growing chance that he will return next season: not in the FA Cup, but in the Premier League.

He took over a Reading side who finished 17th in the Championship. They were widely tipped for mid-table mediocrity again. Instead they sit third, punching above their weight and producing a typically Dutch brand of passing football.

Stam also played for van Gaal in the Netherlands national team. The past, as ever at Old Trafford, is everywhere today.

MANCHESTER UNITED V READING

Singtel TV Ch109, 8.20pm

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 07, 2017, with the headline 'Mourinho's chance to catch a breather'. Print Edition | Subscribe