Fellaini's absence a big loss

From left: Manchester United's Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Ashley Young, Matteo Darmian and Ander Herrera training in Moscow ahead of their Champions League Group A match against CSKA Moscow today. The Red Devils have never lost to their Russian opponents.
From left: Manchester United's Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Ashley Young, Matteo Darmian and Ander Herrera training in Moscow ahead of their Champions League Group A match against CSKA Moscow today. The Red Devils have never lost to their Russian opponents.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Mourinho rues injury to Belgian, which has left United short on numbers in the middle of the park

MOSCOW • Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho hopes that Marouane Fellaini will not be missed, after the Belgian midfielder was ruled out of today's Champions League clash with CSKA Moscow through injury.

The Belgian midfielder did not travel for the Group A game in Moscow after being caught on the back of his ankle by Shane Long during United's 1-0 win at Southampton on Saturday.

United are also without midfielders Paul Pogba and Michael Carrick, and Mourinho suggested Craig Pawson, who refereed the match at St Mary's, would have sent Long off had he had a better view of the incident.

"For me, Craig Pawson is one of the big refereeing talents in England," Mourinho said at CSKA's VEB Arena yesterday. "He had an amazing game in my opinion. He was so calm, so much in control. He had a great performance. After, I watched it on television - no camera for Craig - and he made that decision, so decision made.

"Fellaini was lucky. It could be a much worse situation, but in a moment where we don't have Pogba and Carrick, Marouane becomes even more important than he always is. Not to be here tomorrow is a difficult situation for us. But I expect Fellaini not to be out for a long time.

"After Crystal Palace, there is the international break and Belgium was the first team to qualify (for the 2018 World Cup), so (they are) not even under pressure for a special big match. So hopefully, he will be back for us."

With Pogba, Fellaini and Carrick all missing, Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera are Mourinho's only fit senior central midfielders. United top Group A on goal difference from CSKA after beating Basel 3-0 in their opening game.

"We don't have Fellaini, Pogba or Carrick, so all three midfield players we lose for this match, so the solutions are not many," Mourinho said.

"But we try not to focus on individual battles on the pitch, we are going to have a team with quality and balance to try to win the match, which is the objective."

However, Mourinho said if his side were to come away with a win over CSKA, they must play a "humble" style of football.

"We cannot guarantee this line of success, but the way to keep it is to do what we are doing," the United manager said.

"We try to play well, and in some moments of the match, if the opponent has moments of superiority, we have to be humble, like we were against Southampton. We must cope with difficult moments of the game."

United boast an unbeaten record against CSKA, having won two of the four meetings, with the other two matches ending all square.

Most recently, in the 2015-16 Champions League group stage, the English club drew 1-1 in Russia, while a Wayne Rooney strike was enough to hand them a 1-0 win at Old Trafford.

CSKA, who sit fourth in the Russian Premier Liga having gained 20 points from their opening 11 fixtures, go into today's match on the back of a goalless draw with Dinamo Moscow.

Victor Goncharenko's side seem to save their best efforts for Europe. CSKA cruised past AEK Athens and BSC Young Boys in the Champions League qualifying rounds without conceding a goal, before claiming that potentially crucial 2-1 away win over Benfica in their first group game.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 27, 2017, with the headline 'Fellaini's absence a big loss'. Print Edition | Subscribe