UNITED RUNNING ON EMPTY
A headache for Mourinho as Pogba, Ibrahimovic will miss Middlesbrough tie
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