With the Europa League clash against St. Etienne looming large, Jose Mourinho faced the world’s media at Carrington to discuss the build up to the game. The last time the two sides faced each other was during the 1977/78 European Cup Winners’ Cup and United progressed with a 3-1 aggregate win. The second leg was memorably played at Plymouth Argyle’s Home Park as punishment for crowd trouble in France. Here are some of the manager’s comments. Also present was defender Eric Bailly.
The boss said “Marcos Rojo is totally recovered. We protected him at the weekend and now he is totally recovered. Carrick and Rooney, they appear with little things. I am not saying injuries because I don’t think we are speaking about injuries, but little things that I think are going to keep them out of the match tomorrow.”
“Phil is still recovering from the injury” and “(Luke Shaw) He’s not playing tomorrow, because my team is playing well and I am happy with my back four. I am going to repeat Valencia, Bailly, Smalling and Daley Blind.” We know that once Mourinho has a back line he likes; he very rarely changes them.
On the fixture congestion
Mourinho, “The Europa League is not a competition we want to play, but it’s a competition we play and we respect it. The plus is another opportunity to qualify for the Champions League. We have two doors still open. One is the Europa League but we know we are in the last 32 not even the last eight or four, so there is a long way to go. In the Premier League the door is also open but we still have a long way to go. It’s a fact that the Europa League is normally played on Thursdays even though next week (in France) it’s Wednesday. We never got a Monday fixture (in the Premier League) to have an extra day’s rest so I know already that matches away for example at Middlesbrough will be played on a Sunday at 12 o’clock. But if you ask me if I want to beat Saint-Etienne and continue in the competition, I tell you yes. We know it can be really difficult but we also know we don’t throw away competitions.
‘We know it’s going to be difficult and can have an impact in the Premier League because we compete against teams in other circumstances. Liverpool play only in the Premier League, Chelsea in the Premier League and the FA Cup. Tottenham are in the same situation as us. But we prefer difficult and progressing to easy and being out of the competition. We cannot choose competitions at Manchester United, we know that our situation is really complicated. We know that the Europa League is also a competition where we pay on Thursdays and that makes it even more difficult for us. The problem for us is the postponed match. The match against Man City is postponed. If we win against Blackburn, the Southampton game will be postponed. If we draw against Blackburn we will have another match against them at Old Trafford and then I think April and May will be very very hard – so hopefully it is very very very hard.’
On Paul Pogba facing his brother
Jose Mourinho: “We spoke (with Paul) but in a good way, in a funny way. I think it’s a nice destiny. I think only Mum Pogba is in a little bit of trouble, which is normal. It’s difficult for the lady to choose. It’s not difficult, it’s impossible for her to choose. I know from Paul that the mum wants a draw but next week one son will be happy and another one will be sad. There’s only a little bit of a problem for the mum. For them, they will enjoy it, they will enjoy to play against each other. Paul is excited and Florentin for sure is the same. I think it’s a good thing.”
Eric Bailly’s comments
Bailly: “First and foremost, we know that it’s a special occasion for the Pogba family and the Pogba brothers. But we’re also aware it’s a very serious knockout stage game. They’ve been having a little bit of fun and Paul has mentioned it in training, but we’re focusing totally on Saint-Etienne. We’re aware of what a good season Saint-Etienne are having. They’re on a good run of form at the moment. We’re able to see French football on TV or certainly I am. So I’m fine without Paul having to tell us that. But it’s a serious game and we know that it’s going to be a tough game because they’ve got a really good group dynamic going on at Saint-Etienne and I think they’re going to be a threat.”
“Whether you’ve been away at the Africa Cup of Nations or not, it’s always difficult get-ting into this starting XI. It’s a really strong side and a really strong squad. What has been beneficial is that I was fortunate right at the start of the season to get plenty of game time so that has helped me, it has helped me grow as a player and get used to the league here. So that’s been beneficial to me and that’s one of the reasons why I’ve been playing now. But you never take it for granted. It’s always tough getting in that starting XI. I suppose one surprise was getting into the team so quickly. But what I’ve had from day one and, what I’m really grateful for, is the excellent work of the backroom staff, the coaches, the fitness coaches and I’ve enjoyed the confidence and the backing of the manager as well. Those are the factors that have really helped me settle in. What I’ve found different to any other manager I’ve had in my career is the time he takes and the time he spends with you individually. He’s shown me videos where he’s looked at game situations that have happened that involved myself or the defence in general. He’s taken the time to talk me through stuff. We’ve had chats about how to approach games tacti-cally. It’s something that’s been really helpful for me. What I’ve tried to do is put into practice and work on what he’s been telling me. And I think that’s something that has really helped me. His experience is something that he’s been able to pass on to me by means of looking at clips from matches and stuff.
“I’m really pleased by the fact I’ve managed to start playing so quickly and that this set-tling-in period has gone so relatively smoothly. As I said, it’s down to that welcome and I’m really pleased with the fact that I’m such a young player and I’ve managed to find my way into the side and earn the respect and the support of the older players, the expe-rienced and veteran players within the club.”
“It’s not something I’ve had experience of (Saint-Etienne) because at Villarreal we didn’t have such a busy fixture calendar. But certainly, before I came here, I knew that this league was different. There were extra cup competitions and matches can build up. But as I say, it was something I was aware of before I came here and the way we do it, the way we cope with it, is by focusing on the next encounter, the next match. All we have on our minds at the moment is tomorrow [Thursday] night, trying to get a victory and then moving on to the next game at the weekend.”
United will be looking to take a decent lead over to France as their recent away form in Europe has been poor at best.