Manchester United playmaker Juan Mata has been ruled out for the rest of the season with José Mourinho confirming the player will not be fit until the end of May.
Mata has not played since the 3-1 win over Middlesbrough on 19 March after he was forced to undergo groin surgery. The Daily Telegraph reported United were hopeful of the Spain international returning to aid the club during the season run-in, suggesting he could return in time for the second leg of United's Europa League quarter-final tie with Anderlecht next week on 20 April.
But the 28-year-old now appears set to miss the remainder of the 2016-17 campaign with Mourinho confirming after Thursday's 1-1 draw in Belgium the player is not due back until "late-May."
United's Premier League campaign finish away to Crystal Palace on Sunday 21 May. They will hope to be involved in the Europa League final at the Friends Arena in Stockholm three days later on 24 May, but that is likely to come too soon for Mata, who is second behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the club's scoring charts with 10 goals to his name.
Chris Smalling and Phil Jones will have a chance of returning for the season finale, however. Both defenders returned from March's international breaks carrying injuries, with Jones' toe injury coming after Smalling injured his club teammate during a training session with the national team.
Mourinho was unable to offer return dates for the pair at the time, but described the injuries as "long-term".
The United boss now hopes to have both players available again by "mid-May".
Eric Bailly and Marcos Rojo are United's only other two options at centre-half and have already played all 90 minutes of the club's four games so far this month. They will be expected to continue on at the heart of defense with Smalling and Jones possibly not in line to return until the final three games of the season against Tottenham Hotspur, Southampton and Palace.
"There is nothing I can do [about the current defensive situation]," Mourinho said. "They [Bailly and Rojo] have to go until the limits. There is no other choice. We don't have any other central defenders. They have to go. There is no other chance."
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