Jose Mourinho believes Manchester United blew their “last chance” to finish in the top four with last week’s 1-1 home draw against Swansea City, and it is as such “impossible” for him to play a full-strength team against Arsenal, if they want to make sure of winning the Europa League and making the Champions League that way.
The Portuguese put that down to the fact Celta Vigo will rest players for their match away to Malaga on Sunday, before trying to overturn United’s 1-0 semi-final first-leg lead at Old Trafford on Thursday.
United will not face any sanction for a weakened line-up, so long as they use players from the 25-man Premier League squad, and not a raft of youth graduates.
Mourinho had said he will rest the players who have played the most minutes since the start of their heavy April schedule and, while there remains a possibility this is merely a bit of strategy from the United boss, such a decision does run the risk of slightly diluting one of England’s biggest fixtures at a point when Arsenal badly need results.
When this was put to Mourinho, he stressed he would be treating the game as seriously as ever, but said he had to be pragmatic due to the circumstances.
“We are going to try [to beat Arsenal],” the United boss said. “We are going to try. We are not going to Arsenal to say ‘beat us’, or ‘beat us five or 6-0’, we are going there to fight for a result. But, it’s impossible... I cannot do it in another way. If Celta was playing with their best team, if Celta was fighting for important things in La Liga, we would go in the same circumstances, but I cannot now play with the same team that played here, and then repeat again on the next Thursday.
“So, we have to be human with the players, we have to be sensible and common sense in relation to our situation in the Premier League, and I think the last match against Swansea was our last chance to fight for top four, so I am going to rest players, sure.”
Given Mourinho’s comments about “accumulation” of minutes over the 10 games since the start of April, those players are likely to be Eric Bailly (901 minutes), Marcus Rashford (774 minutes), Jesse Lingard (687 minutes), Antonio Valencia (651 minutes) and maybe even Ander Herrera (630 minutes). The Portuguese was of course forced into a similar situation in the recent match at Old Trafford against league leaders Chelsea, only to then pull off one of the best displays of United’s season with a 2-0 win.
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