Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho finally issued some unqualified praise for Luke Shaw, as the England defender contributed substantially to a win which heaps pressure on Arsenal ahead of the North London club’s match at Crystal Palace on Monday night.
United leapfrogged Arsenal, who are sixth in the pursuit of a top four finish and Shaw impressed, starting only his second Premier League game since October at the end of a week in which Mourinho accused him of failing to think for himself on the field.
The Portuguese admitted that the 21-year-old was “reading the game well” in the 3-0 win at a seemingly doomed Sunderland. “He played well, played solid,” Mourinho said.
“The opposition was not creating big problems but he was solid and was confident with the ball, going forward with some danger. He was reading the game well to go to [Henrikh] Mkhitaryan when he was inside,” Mourinho said. “He played really well.”
Shaw was booked in the first half and Mourinho said he substituted him around the hour mark to remove any risk of dismissal from referee Craig Powson was “under pressure” having sent off Sunderland’s Seb Larsson, on 43 minutes.
“I thought about a half-time change but thought it was too harsh for [Shaw],” Mourinho added.
“I wanted him to play a little bit more. So 2-0, one hour [gone], the crowd asking for everything and putting the referee under pressure – no risk. We need him to be available for the next match.”
Injuries to Phil Jones and Chris Smalling leave Mourinho mean Shaw is likely to feature in a big week for United, with the trip to Anderlecht for Thursday’s Europa League quarter final followed by Chelsea’s arrival at Old Trafford on Sunday.
Mourinho said that anything less than victory at Sunderland would have ended his side’s top four hopes and that winning the Europa League – now his number 1 target – is at least as achievable as securing a top four place.
“It's the only chance we have to win one more trophy,” he said of the European competition United have never won. “I think it's as difficult as finishing fourth but it's the only competition we can win now. We have to fight for that. I don't want our club to be happy with just fighting for top four and Champions League. We want to fight for trophies.
“The Premier League was not possible because we drew too many matches. Now we are going to fight for the Europa League but while it is still mathematically possible we keep fighting for the top four. We know Chelsea is on holiday for a couple of days and the next match is against us. We know we go to Brussels for the Europa League and it is more difficult for us but we keep fighting. It's a good problem.”
The United manager ruled out Jones, Smalling, Ashley Young or Wayne Rooney being fit to play Anderlecht and said that David de Gea – left out on Sunday because of an unspecified “small problem” – would, as usual, not be considered for a competition in which Sergio Romero always plays. Antonio Valencia is “the only one who can recover to play Thursday,” he said.
Sunderland manager David Moyes, whose side could be relegated by April 26 with five games still to play, said he would only concede his side are doomed “when it’s mathematical. Otherwise we keep going. We’ve been in poor positions before.”
He indicated he might appeal Larssson’s dismissal, which came after he had lost Bryan Oviedo to a hamstring injury “I’m not sure we can [appeal I, can] we?” he said. ”We’ll have a look at it.”