Jose Mourinho has demanded resilience from his tiring Manchester United players over the gruelling month ahead, after admitting that defenders Phil Jones and Chris Smalling are “long-term” injury victims.
The England defensive pair are among five United first team players unavailable for the Premier League game against West Brom on Saturday, with record signing Paul Pogba also out injured for what the United manager claims is an unspecified time.
Suspended Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Ander Herrera make up the absentees and are, at least, short-term absences.
But with United facing nine games in the month of April as they attempt to secure qualification for next season’s Champions League, either by winning the Europa League or finishing in the top four in the Premier League, Mourinho left his players in no doubt what is required in the final six weeks of a testing campaign.
“They have to be resilient, they have to be professionals,” said Mourinho.
“They have to be team players, they have to understand the team needs, they have to go to the limits, they have to play with small injuries, they have to play with pain, play with fatigue because there is no other chance.
“When I look, for example, in two weeks we are going to play against Chelsea. Before, we play Anderlecht and after, we play Anderlecht.
“Chelsea, before they are on holidays and after they are on holidays. You can name their team, you can say ‘This one, this one, this one, this one and this one.'
“In 15 days' time maybe the Premier League is not important for us, maybe it is. If we keep winning matches now, that match against Chelsea is an important match for us. If we lose matches now, that match is not important; then the important matches are only Anderlecht.
“So we want every match to be important until the end of the season and if we manage that, to be in the run in the two competitions, the boys have to be very resilient, very strong physically.
“They have to cope with everything like they did in that week against Rostov, coped with the bad pitch, coming from London by bus, they coped playing against Chelsea with 10 men, coped with playing against Rostov three days later.
“But some bodies they felt it. Like Pogba's body felt it and had a negative reaction. So we need to be strong and need to believe and a good starting point is by saying the ones that are not are not important, the only ones that are important are the ones that are available.”
The mantra that only the fit and available players are currently important went some way to explaining why Mourinho would not expand on the problems suffered by Jones and Smalling who were both injured while training with the national team.
Having apparently indicated in midweek that both players’ seasons are over, Mourinho now claims that they are merely “long-term” injuries although would not be specific over Jones’s toe problem and Smalling’s calf injury.