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More Mourinho mind games ahead of the Manchester derby?

Manchester United will go head to head with Manchester City in the Premier League at the Etihad Stadium on Thursday evening in the Manchester derby, which was rescheduled from February after United won the EFL Cup, beating Southampton, on the day the derby should have taken place this season. With United’s participation in the UEFA Europa League, and City’s participation in the Emirates FA Cup, which ended this weekend at the hands of Arsenal, the match could only be played under the floodlights this season. United manager Jose Mourinho has a full injury list with Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, and Juan Mata out for the long-term, but on Thursday night against Anderlecht in the Europa League quarter-final second leg, United lost both Marcos Rojo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic to serious knee injuries, both seeing their season end prematurely.

United saw their season extended by a further two matches after being drawn against Spanish side Celta de Vigo in the semi-final of the Europa League this season, the matches will be played either side of the Premier League clash with Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium in May, which will be another tough period for United to get through, but this season has been tough, playing matches every three to four days for the past few months. The injuries United have suffered at this stage suggest a lot of quality has been removed from the team, especially with top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic and one of the most-improved players this season, Marcos Rojo both being out of action for the remainder of the season, and much of the next season. Mourinho, speaking in his press conference after the 2-0 victory over Burnley on Sunday, said:

“If we beat Celta we go to the final. And yes, it’s important for us to play Champions League but this club wants trophies. We cannot give the club the Premier League, we have a 25 percent chance to win the Europa League and we have to put everything on it. So I will rotate players again, I will give rest to some players again and let’s see what we can do. And at least in terms of expectation, in terms of emotion for the game, it’s better, a derby with one point difference, than with four. So it was a good victory for us.”

The fact that Mourinho has given the impression that United will prioritise the Europa League as their doorway into the UEFA Champions League next season gives me a few concerns. Is the Portuguese manager playing mind games ahead of the Manchester derby, being that there is only one point and two goals between the two Manchester clubs this season, plus the fact that Liverpool were defeated, again, by Crystal Palace, with United having two games in hand over Jurgen Klopp’s side, with a good victory over City seeing United possibly leapfrog both teams from fifth into third in the Premier League. Another concern is whether Mourinho means what he is saying, putting even further weakened teams out in the Premier League, aiming to win both legs against Celta de Vigo earning a Europa League final place, which will give him a 50% chance of winning a place in the pinnacle European competition next season. It seems like a big gamble, especially when United could break into the top four this season, even if they were defeated by City, there was still a good chance to knock Liverpool out of the top four.

Injuries are something United seem to be getting used to at this stage of the season. Paul Pogba was replaced by Michael Carrick in the last-minute of the victory over Burnley, which could be another injury worry for United ahead of the derby against City. Mourinho speaking about Pogba’s fitness, said:

“I don’t know. Dead he is for sure, if he’s injured or if it’s just the super accumulation of fatigue in the muscles, I don’t know. But as I was saying, if he cannot play Thursday he cannot play Thursday, we play another one and we don’t cry like we didn’t today.”

It may seem that the mind games have started. Mourinho once stated that United did not have enough strikers for a match, which turned out not to be the case. In the run up to big matches, not only will both teams battle on the pitch, the managers will battle on the touch-line, but they will also battle in the days coming up to the match. Mourinho is due to sit down in front of the media for a pre-match press conference on Wednesday afternoon, which could either confirm or deny further injuries, especially to Pogba, who limped off on Sunday. United will need to either blood in some youth for the derby, or continue picking the players that have been playing recently. This summer will be a rest period for United’s players, being that no major tournament is being played. A month, or about that, will see the players recharging their batteries ahead of pre-season and the new season. I am sure they would like to do that knowing they have achieved something a Manchester United team have never achieved before; winning the UEFA Europa League. Saying that, though, I am sure many of the players will want to beat Manchester City on Thursday evening too.

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