UNITED RUN­NING ON EMPTY

A headache for Mour­inho as Pogba, Ibrahi­movic will miss Mid­dles­brough tie

New Straits Times - - Sport - LON­DON

MANCH­ESTER United boss Jose Mour­inho went on the of­fen­sive af­ter his side strug­gled past Ros­tov on Thurs­day night.

The United boss blasted the fix­ture list which sees Eng­land’s last re­main­ing team in the Europa League play at mid­day to­day.

Mour­inho has some­thing of an in­jury cri­sis on his hands, and with just 50 hours be­tween games, man­ager­less Mid­dles­brough will fancy their chances of steal­ing a result.

United are already with­out Zla­tan Ibrahi­movic, who is sus­pended for a fur­ther two do­mes­tic games, and An­der Her­rera for the game, while record signing Paul Pogba will not have time to re­cover from a ham­string in­jury picked up on Thurs­day.

Mour­inho had to re­sort to playing Phil Jones on the left hand side against Ros­tov be­cause Da­ley Blind was forced off, and he too re­mains a doubt for the Premier League fix­ture.

And with An­thony Mar­tial and Wayne Rooney both still strug­gling, Mour­inho is short of options all over the park.

So how will United line up against Mid­dles­brough?

In de­fence, the ab­sence of Blind could mean that Mar­cos Rojo moves back to the left hand side, with Jones filling in at cen­tre­back — al­though it is also a chance for the out of favour Luke Shaw, not even on the bench for the Europa League clash, to stake a claim.

Tired legs could be a prob­lem, but Mour­inho will prob­a­bly stick with Rojo, who called for an en­ergy-boost­ing ba­nana on Thurs­day, Eric Bailly and Chris Smalling.

An­to­nio Va­len­cia has seem­ingly made the right back/right wing-back role his own, al­though Mat­teo Darmian did play against Chelsea — his first ap­pear­ance for a month — and could be used again if fresh legs are needed.

How­ever, with Rojo not a nat­u­ral wing-back, it may en­cour­age the Por­tuguese man­ager to re­vert to a back four, hav­ing used five in de­fence against both Chelsea and Ros­tov.

This would prob­a­bly mean Blind would sim­ply be re­placed by an­other mid­fielder.

In the mid­dle of the park, the loss of Pogba and the ab­sence of Her­rera means there will def­i­nitely have to be some changes.

If Mour­inho opts for a back four against Boro’s less than po­tent front-line, he could play two sit­ting mid­field­ers, in Marouane Fel­laini and Michael Car­rick, thus giv­ing Hen­rikh Mkhi­taryan more li­cense to get for­ward and sup­port the front-man.

That would leave Juan Mata and ei­ther Jesse Lin­gard or Ash­ley Young to cut in off the flanks, a cre­ative mid­field even with­out Pogba and Her­rera, and one that should be more than ca­pa­ble of mak­ing chances for the for­wards. Al­ter­na­tively, if Mour­inho opts for five de­fend­ers, a nar­rower mid­field three of Car­rick, Mata and Lin­gard would have the ball­re­ten­tion, and en­ergy, to let Mkhi­taryan roam in front of them.

The ad­van­tage of that sys­tem is that it gives United an ex­tra op­tion up front, where their only fit for­ward at the mo­ment is young Mar­cus Rash­ford.

He showed flashes of bril­liance against Chelsea, and im­por­tantly had some time to rest on Thurs­day, but is not a nat­u­ral as a lone for­ward.

Mour­inho will hope his mid­field get closer to Rash­ford to­day than they did at Stam­ford Bridge, but a mid­field with­out Fel­laini would also of­fer the chance — most likely off the bench — for the big Bel­gian to of­fer a sup­port­ing fo­cal point in at­tack.

Of course, Mour­inho does like to spring the oc­ca­sional sur­prise, and has even been known to make a point with his se­lec­tion — so a stunt like changing all 11 play­ers from the Ros­tov game is not be­yond the imag­i­na­tion.

But with so many in­juries and sus­pen­sions, United’s options look lim­ited on Sun­day. Daily Mail

Mar­cus Rash­ford

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