Football: Manchester United focused on Europa vision

Manchester United's Marouane Fellaini scoring against Celta Vigo in the tense 1-1 draw on Thursday. Winning the Europa League final against Ajax on May 24 would be the perfect end to the season, said Jose Mourinho.
Manchester United's Marouane Fellaini scoring against Celta Vigo in the tense 1-1 draw on Thursday. Winning the Europa League final against Ajax on May 24 would be the perfect end to the season, said Jose Mourinho.PHOTO: REUTERS

United's 3-game EPL schedule before final with Ajax a factor in Mourinho's plan to rotate roster

LONDON • Jose Mourinho will unapologetically seek to preserve the freshness of his Manchester United players over their final three Premier League games, after they reached the Europa League final on Thursday.

United will play Ajax in the final in Stockholm on May 24 following a nervous 1-1 result at home with Celta Vigo on Thursday. The draw, during which centre-back Eric Bailly was sent off, gave them a 2-1 aggregate semi-final win.

Ajax advanced to their first European final in 21 years despite a 3-1 defeat by Lyon in France, the Dutch side progressing 5-4 on aggregate.

Whereas Ajax's season finishes tomorrow, United still have three league games to play - beginning with a clash against Tottenham Hotspur tomorrow - and Mourinho said he would have no qualms about making sure his players are in top shape for the trip to Sweden.

"Obviously now Ajax think about the final," the United manager said.

"Their league finishes on Sunday and they will have 12 days to prepare for the final and we have three Premier League matches to play.

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    Days Manchester United have to prepare for the May 24 Europa League final, after their last English Premier League game on May 21.

"Hopefully Crystal Palace (United's last league opponents) don't need the last game, because in the last game I'm going to make a lot of changes and nobody can blame us because we have a final (three) days later."

With United struggling to secure a top-four finish in the Premier League, having fallen four points behind fourth-placed Manchester City, winning the Europa League is their last hope of reaching the Champions League.

But Mourinho said it would be wrong purely to view the final as a means to an end, particularly as United have never previously won the competition.

"It means an opportunity to win a trophy, the opportunity to be back in the Champions League," said the Portuguese, who won the Uefa Cup - the precursor to the Europa League - with Porto in 2003.

"It means an opportunity to end the season in the perfect way because the final is the last match of the season."

Leading 1-0 from last week's first leg in Vigo, United doubled their advantage in the 17th minute when Marcus Rashford crossed for Marouane Fellaini to head home.

But Facundo Roncaglia reduced the lead with five minutes remaining before being sent off following a shoving match with Bailly.

Celta had United on edge throughout and, had substitute Claudio Beauvue shot rather than crossed when he found himself six yards from goal in stoppage time, they might have gone through.

Mourinho claimed that Bailly, who will be suspended for the Stockholm final, received the "wrong card" after becoming entangled in an 88th-minute melee.

The United defender struck theCelta No. 9, John Guidetti, and Antonio Valencia then pushed the former Manchester City striker while Roncaglia raised his arms.

The referee, Ovidio Hategan, had seemingly little option but to brandish a red card at Bailly.

"Some kept their control in a better way than others," said Mourinho.

"I don't know (the details of) the incident but we have lost a very important player for the final and we don't have many."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 13, 2017, with the headline 'Focus on Europa vision'. Print Edition | Subscribe