Football: United quartet back training

Manchester United skipper Wayne Rooney leading his team-mates, including a returning Chris Smalling, during a training session ahead of their Europa League semi-final game with Celta Vigo. Smalling's return to fitness will be much welcomed by his coa
Manchester United skipper Wayne Rooney leading his team-mates, including a returning Chris Smalling, during a training session ahead of their Europa League semi-final game with Celta Vigo. Smalling's return to fitness will be much welcomed by his coach Jose Mourinho, who had been critical of the centre-back's unwillingness to avail himself to the United cause sooner.PHOTO: REUTERS

Mourinho gets boost as Pogba, Bailly, Smalling, Jones return to face Celta

MADRID • Manchester United received a big fitness boost yesterday, when midfielder Paul Pogba and defenders Eric Bailly, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones trained ahead of their Europa League semi-final first leg at Celta Vigo today.

England pair Smalling and Jones have been out since mid-March, while fellow centre-back Bailly limped off in the 61st minute of United's 1-1 draw with Swansea City on Sunday.

With left-back Luke Shaw suffering a foot injury in the same game, United were facing a defensive injury crisis, but manager Jose Mourinho may now have more options at his disposal than anticipated.

Record signing Pogba's return to the training pitch at United's Carrington base will be welcomed after he missed their last two games with muscle fatigue.

Mourinho has been critical of Smalling and Jones for not being prepared to play through the pain barrier. It is unclear whether the pair or Bailly will be fit to start in Vigo today.

Right-back Matteo Darmian, midfielder Michael Carrick or 19-year-old Axel Tuanzebe could also deputise at the heart of the defence.

The English side will have midfielder Marouane Fellaini back available, while Juan Mata could make his comeback from groin surgery after being an unused substitute against Swansea.

Midfielders Matty Willock and Scott McTominay, both 20, were also present in an unusually large group of 23 players yesterday, reported ESPN.

United's squad for Europa League away games usually features around 20, which suggests some of those who trained will not go to Spain.

The English giants are without top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic due to cruciate ligament damage.

The Swedish striker had surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre in the United States on Monday. He will likely undergo his rehabilitation at United's training base even if he does not extend his contract, which expires at the end of next month.

United paid for the operation but from a business point of view it is questionable whether the club would be willing to prolong the contract of a player who is unlikely to kick a ball again until early next year. However, they are still open to allowing him to do rehabilitation work at Carrington.

Compared to United's injury problems, have had the luxury of resting Eduardo Berizzo's preferred XI for the majority of their recent LaLiga games as they concentrate on trying to win a first major trophy.

"We also know what's at stake - not only that you win the Europa League, which is huge, but you can also win a place in the Champions League," Celta striker John Guidetti told Uefa.com. "You have dreams about that."

And the former Manchester City man would revel in ending United's chances of winning the Europa League for the first time.

"As they say 'Manchester is blue' and that's how it will be when we visit there as well, because we are Celta Vigo and we will try to keep the city blue," Guidetti said.

"With the mentality we've built here, nothing is impossible. We may be a small club and a team that others don't take much notice of, but we also know how good we are. That's why we've beaten Barcelona two years in a row. We knocked Real Madrid out of the (King's Cup), we've beaten Atletico Madrid."

Former Liverpool striker Iago Aspas is Celta's main threat as he has 24 goals in all competitions this season.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 04, 2017, with the headline 'United quartet back training'. Print Edition | Subscribe