Victory march on radar for Mourinho

Wayne Rooney (right) will be raring to go against Hull City, having taken sole ownership of the Manchester United scoring record.
Wayne Rooney (right) will be raring to go against Hull City, having taken sole ownership of the Manchester United scoring record.PHOTO: REUTERS

United boss in high spirits before Hull game, acknowledges challenge that confronts Silva

LONDON • Jose Mourinho appeared for his press conference at Manchester United's training ground yesterday with a close-cropped haircut and then boasted that he could grow his hair back within a month.

The English Premier League football club's manager probably decided on a new look to celebrate his 54th birthday, which falls today and when his side play Hull City at the KCOM Stadium in the second leg of their League Cup semi-final.

"It's a privilege (to have a full head of hair) because I'm the kind of guy that can do it and in a month I have a new look," he joked, looking amusedly at balding reporters who had turned up at Carrington.

The Portuguese can afford to be in a jovial mood as his team are on an unbeaten 17-game run and in contention for four trophies.

They also travel to Hull looking to close out victory, after having won 2-0 in the first leg at Old Trafford courtesy of second-half strikes from Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini.

But Mourinho made it clear he would not take their opponents lightly. "They played the matches they won at home very well too," he said. "They played very well against Chelsea, too. So, I think they're in a good situation.

"I knew that Marco (Silva) was such a good coach that the team would really improve. He still has a very difficult job in hand, still a big fight with some other five, six, seven teams for relegation, but is a good coach. Very good."

Hull have shown signs of improvement under new manager Silva, giving Premier League leaders Chelsea a decent game in Sunday's 2-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge.

Yet, United are considered the favourites to beat them and enter the League Cup final today.

Asked whether United can go all the way and win the League Cup, Mourinho said: "I really don't know. I know that it's going to be hard. Let's see what happens. In this moment, we have a 35 per cent chance to win the Cup."

Mourinho will be able to recall centre-back Marcos Rojo after he missed last weekend's Stoke trip through illness, meaning Eric Bailly, who will return to United after Ivory Coast were knocked out of the African Cup of Nations, will be the only absentee.

Captain Wayne Rooney will go into the game with a spring in his step, having scored a record-breaking 250th goal in the club's colours with a stoppage-time free kick to equalise at Stoke.

"It's definitely not over, we all know that," United midfielder Michael Carrick told MUTV. "I think we'll be pretty much full-strength and will approach the game like it's 0-0 and starting from scratch. We need to approach it like any other game, keep our focus and intensity and try to win the game."

Hull's preparations have been overshadowed by the serious head injury suffered at Chelsea by midfielder Ryan Mason, who, according to the club, is making "excellent progress".

Hull's players will wear "MASON 25' T-shirts during the warm-up - a reference both to Mason's age and squad number - and fans have been encouraged to join in with a minute's applause in the 25th minute.

Hull have bolstered their ranks with a loan move for Serbian winger Lazar Markovic, 22, who had been on loan at Sporting Lisbon from Liverpool.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

HULL V MANCHESTER UNITED
Singtel TV Ch109, tomorrow, 3.40am

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 26, 2017, with the headline 'Victory march on radar for Mourinho'. Print Edition | Subscribe