Jose Mourinho has been dealt another severe blow with Juan Mata likely to miss Manchester United’s hectic April schedule after undergoing a hernia operation.
Mata had successfully surgery on Thursday, but while he is confident of playing again this season, the Spain midfielder could be out for a month, which would rule him out of United’s next nine matches.
With Phil Jones and Chris Smalling uncertain to play again this season after the defenders picked up injuries on England duty, Mourinho claimed he has “no idea” when midfielder Paul Pogba will return from a hamstring problem and Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Ander Herrera suspended for the visit of West Bromwich Albion on Saturday the manager must face a gruelling fixture schedule with an increasingly depleted squad.
Luke Shaw has been omitted from the squad to face West Brom but Wayne Rooney is available after a minor knee injury. Mata will face further tests early next week, when the club’s medical staff hope to put a more accurate timeframe on his absence.
A spokesperson for United said: “Juan Mata has had surgery for a groin injury, further updates on his recovery will follow in due course.”
The news on Mata came as Mourinho challenged his squad to play through injuries, pain and fatigue after warning that defeat at home to West Brom could signal the end of their top four hopes.
The United manager has told his team they face a make-or-break fortnight in the Premier League and that their hopes of playing in next season’s Champions League could rest solely on the Europa League if they drop points against West Brom, Everton or Sunderland before the visit of Chelsea on Apr. 16.
United are currently four points behind Liverpool in fourth, albeit with two games in hand.
“Every match now for us is a big match,” said Mourinho. “The Europa League is to play the quarter-final or go home. In the Premier League one more victory we are in the run [for the top four], one defeat maybe you are not in the run anymore.
“The players have to be resilient, they have to be professionals, they have to be team players, they have to understand the team’s 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.
“For example, in two weeks we are going to play against Chelsea, before that we play Anderlecht [in the first leg of the Europa League quarter-final] and after we play Anderlecht [in the second leg].
“Chelsea before and after 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 important for us. If we lose matches now that match is not important and the important matches are only Anderlecht.”
Mourinho has expressed his “regret” at his handling of Bastian Schweinsteiger, who joined Chicago Fire this week, but said he took the decision to initially banish the German after questioning why he routinely fled England for treatment on injuries under Louis van Gaal last season.
“I regret [my treatment of Schweinsteiger] and there is no problem for me to admit it, because I have told him,” Mourinho said. “What I know about Bastian as a player was a season full of injuries, a season where he was not having treatment in the club, it was outside the club and I thought that was not right - the mentality was not right - it was the kind of player I would not like to have in the squad.”
Antoine Griezmann is one of United’s leading transfer targets this summer but the Atletico Madrid and France forward has made repeated references to the unfavourable English weather in recent weeks. But Mourinho is adamant he will not be messed about by anyone.
“If a player wants to move to London, enjoy London, we don’t want you,” Mourinho said. “If the first thing you think is where you’re going to live, think Los Angeles, LA Galaxy would be the first choice, then Vitoria Setubal - go to the beach every day. There are beautiful places to live and to play. If I or Mr [Ed] Woodward [United’s executive vice-chairman] calls some guy or agent, we want people who are immediately engaged or dreaming about coming. This is the profile of players we want. If you don’t want to come to us, good luck, enjoy your other club.
“They [the board] know I am not asking for impossible targets, I ask for difficult targets. I’m sure that in the end of the summer probably we don’t have exactly my first options because it’s difficult to succeed in every attempt. But I’m sure that we are going to do something interesting.”