LONDON • Jose Mourinho has called Manchester United's upcoming fixture schedule a "poisoned gift", making him all the more relieved to get a much-needed Europa League win against Zorya Luhansk on Thursday.
Having lost their Group A opener at Feyenoord a fortnight ago, the Portuguese highlighted the importance of securing victory against the relatively unknown Ukrainian side at Old Trafford.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic's close-range header secured a 1-0 win that kick-starts their campaign ahead of the Oct 20 home clash with Fenerbahce, which comes during a period as important as it is frantic.
The Turkish giants arrive three days after United travel to Liverpool for a fascinating Monday night Premier League clash, with the Europa League clash bookended by Mourinho's first return to Chelsea on Oct 23.
"Well, we could play Liverpool on the Saturday, we could play Liverpool on the Sunday," the United manager, whose side are joint second with Feyenoord in Group A on three points, said. "We play Liverpool on the Monday.
"So maybe we don't have the best conditions, especially because we play against two top Premier League teams that don't play in European competitions. We had this kind of poisoned gift of playing on the Monday. That creates a very difficult situation, but we want to try and qualify for the next round. We want to try.
UNITED'S OCTOBER POISON
Oct 17: Liverpool (Premier League)
Oct 20: Fenerbahce (Europa League)
Oct 23: Chelsea (Premier League)
"(There is a) long time to go, almost a month, but we want to try, so we will play against Fenerbahce with a team with possibilities to beat Fenerbahce."
Asked if he tried to get the Liverpool game moved back from Monday or whether that was impossible, Mourinho said: "I think it is impossible. The poisoned gift is already there, so what can you do? We just have to play Monday, and then Thursday, and then Stamford Bridge on the Sunday.
"But before that, we have Stoke (tomorrow), so let us concentrate on Stoke because it is another poisoned gift because Stoke are not what the table says (Stoke are currently 19th in the 20-team table) .
"The manager is very good, the players are good, the team are good, so when I look to the table, that's not Stoke's position. I play against a good Stoke and not the Stoke in that position in the table."
United, who are sixth, will be looking to rack up a fourth straight win in all competitions when Mark Hughes' side arrive at Old Trafford tomorrow.
Mourinho accepts that they did not play "amazingly well" against Zorya but got the job done.
While he praised Zorya's defensive organisation, he bemoaned what he saw as their delaying tactics.
Ibrahimovic headed home a 69th-minute winner after substitute Wayne Rooney's mishit volley, which struck his knee, hit the ground and looped towards the back post.
Zorya manager Yuriy Vernydub certainly felt his side held their own at Old Trafford, threatening on the counter-attack regularly.
"In my eyes, the game was a draw because the goal scored was a bit of a silly goal," he said.
THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE