LONDON • Jose Mourinho has played down Manchester United's chances of Champions League glory, saying domestic fixture congestion will work against the three-time European champions.
The Premier League pacesetters are set to open their campaign against Swiss champions Basel at Old Trafford today after qualifying for the competition by winning the Europa League.
Mourinho rested key players in Premier League matches towards the end of last season in order to save them for Europe, which he believed offered their best chance of Champions League qualification.
Real Madrid and Juventus, who contested last season's Champions League final, were also able to keep players fresh for Europe but still won their domestic leagues, while United finished sixth.
According to Mourinho, both Real and Juve enjoyed an easier domestic schedule, pointing to the lack of a winter break in England.
"The only thing I can say is that Real Madrid last year played the last month in LaLiga with the second team," he said yesterday. "They could do it. And they arrived in the Champions League final with a fresh team.
"Juventus, because they were champions in Italy three months in advance, they could play with the second team and arrive fresh for the quarter-final, the semi-final, the final of the Champions League."
Real Madrid last year played the last month in LaLiga with the second team... And they arrived in the Champions League final with a fresh team.''
JOSE MOURINHO, Manchester United manager, pointing out Champions League holders Real Madrid's advantage afforded by their domestic schedules.
The United boss said it was impossible for English teams to do likewise because competition in the domestic game remained fierce until the end of the season.
Mourinho said he had "no complaints" about how English football was set up and that he had the option to rest players.
"I know it goes against us but I have to admit I love the English Christmas period of football," said the United manager. "And then there is the fact that we have to play many times two days before the big matches in Europe and then other countries protect their clubs."
Marouane Fellaini has been struggling lately with a calf problem, and Mourinho appeared to express irritation with Belgium manager Roberto Martinez for fielding the midfielder in the recent World Cup qualifying win over Greece.
"He had a problem in the national team and he played against Greece and after the match, he felt the problem," Mourinho said.
Goalkeeper David de Gea is set to be United's first-choice goalkeeper in Europe, with Mourinho confirming he will not repeat his selection policy of last season, when back-up Sergio Romero played in the Europa League. The manager also said Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof will start at the heart of United's defence today.
Defenders Eric Bailly and Phil Jones, who have started all four of United's Premier League games this season, are serving Uefa bans heading into the European campaign. The duo helped United keep three consecutive clean sheets in the league before their perfect start to the season ended with a 2-2 draw at Stoke on Saturday.
Smalling and Lindelof, United's close season signing from Benfica, will pair up for the first time since United's 2-1 defeat by Real Madrid in the Uefa Super Cup last month.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
MANCHESTER UNITED V BASEL
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