United will go into Thursday’s Manchester derby at the Etihad Stadium a point behind City having gone 23 matches since their last league defeat. If they beat Pep Guardiola’s side, qualification for Europe’s elite competition will, for almost the first time this season, be in their own hands.
Nevertheless, after a surprisingly straightforward 2-0 win at Burnley who went into the fixture with a better home record than Manchester United, Mourinho played down the prospect.
“If we beat Celta Vigo in the semi-final, we go to the final,” the Manchester United manager said. “Yes, it is important for us to play in the Champions League but this club wants trophies. We cannot give the club the Premier League trophy but we have a 25 per cent chance to win the Europa League. I will rotate the players again to give some players a chance again.” He was blasé about Manchester United’s six-month unbeaten run, saying: “it makes up for the fact that we are not good at home”.
United may have to go to the Etihad Stadium without Paul Pogba, who boarded the team bus at Turf Moor in obvious discomfort with a leg injury.
“I don’t know if he is injured or it is just a super-accumulation of fatigue in the muscles,” said Mourinho.
“If he cannot play Thursday, he cannot play and we choose another one. We don’t cry like today. We cry because we have two important injuries, two important surgeries periods of recovery and we feel for our friends.”
Mourinho said he did not know how serious the cruciate ligament injuries to Marcos Rojo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, sustained on Thursday night’s Europa League victory over Anderlecht, were but he did concede it would be difficult for Ibrahimovic, at the age of 35, to recover.
“It is even more sad because for Zlatan at this stage of his career it will be really, really hard and Marcos has finally got a position as a central defender in the Argentina national team,” he said.
Mourinho had rather less fond thoughts for Manchester United’s two other injured defenders, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, whom he thought should push harder to oust Eric Bailly, who had another outstanding game marshalling United’s defence.
“He was incredible,” Mourinho said of the 23-year-old Ivorian. “If I were Smalling or Jones, I would play Thursday. I wouldn’t accept one guy (Bailly) playing nine matches in a row because I am injured.
“If they have a crazy mentality, like I have, they will play. If they are safe-thinking and are surrounded by people with the mentality they have, they will want more time.”