Jose Mourinho is ready to turn to Wayne Rooney in order to cover his increasing injury problems after admitting that Manchester United are “in trouble” as they head into the business end of the season.
With Mourinho already unable to call on defenders Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, the sight of Marcos Rojo limping off the Old Trafford pitch during Thursday night’s Europa League quarter-final victory over Anderlecht will not have been a welcome sight.
To make matters worse, striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic also left the field injured with suspected ligament damage that could rule him out of the rest of the season, and potentially end his United career if he chooses not to stay for a second year with the club after leaving his contract options open.
“We are in trouble,” Mourinho insisted. “We are in trouble. In this moment, Eric Bailly played six matches in a row, and we lost Marcos Rojo, we don’t have Jones or Smalling, we are in trouble and now we lose Zlatan too.”
With Ibrahimovic almost certain to be ruled out of this weekend’s Premier League trip to Burnley, Europa League hero Marcus Rashford is set to deputise in his place and lead the United attack. But with a possible 10 matches remaining this season across the next five weeks, Mourinho is running out of options and looks set to turn to club captain Rooney in an effort to resolve his injury crisis.
Rooney is only just returning from injury himself, but with Juan Mata also sidelined after groin surgery, Mourinho is prepared to risk Rooney even if he is undercooked.
“In attack, we have options and Rooney is coming, and let’s see if Mata can also return before the end of the season, let’s see what happens,” he said.
“He [Rooney] has a good mentality, he is a fighter. He is a strong man, even if he is not in the best condition, even if he is not in the level of sharpness that you need to play high-level football, but he has the experience and character, so he has to.”
United may be four points behind fourth-placed Manchester City, but their game in hand this weekend means that they remain right in the thick of the race for next season’s Champions League, though progression to the Europa League semi-finals – where they will take on La Liga side Celta Vigo – has given them a strong Plan B, with the competition winners handed a place in the Champions League next term.
However, with top-four rivals City and Arsenal meeting this weekend in the FA Cup semi-finals, Mourinho has the chance to put pressure on the pair with a victory over Burnley enough to build a six-point gap to the Gunners and ensure they remain hot on the heels of Pep Guardiola’s side.
But the Portuguese finds his hands somewhat tied when it comes to rotating between Europe and the Premier League, with Ander Herrera and Ashley Young ready to come into the side for the clash at Turf Moor, along with the returning David De Gea and Rashford.
Asked if he will make wholesale changes, Mourinho laughed and said: “No. Herrera plays, he didn’t play today [Thursday], one yellow he would miss [the] semi-final. Ashley Young is fresh to play and who else? [There is] nobody else to play!”