All seemed to go to plan for Manchester United against Fenerbahce on Thursday night. The Europa League Group A match was one that United really needed to win, given they’d slipped up badly against Feyenoord and lost 1-0 in their first match, and the 4-1 win has left them even on points with the Dutch side after three games, in a good position to progress into the last 32.
Of course, Sunday’s Premier League meeting with Chelsea is of far greater significance to their manager given how Jose Mourinho left the club last December. Monday’s 0-0 draw with Liverpool provided fans with a perfect template for what to expect from this new United side in big games; be compact, be aggressive and stifle the game. As such, more of the same should probably be expected for Sunday’s visit to Stamford Bridge.
There are doubts over several members of the first team squad, however. Phil Jones, who has been absent for so much of the last eighteen months that his inclusion in squads comes as a surprise, and Morgan Schneiderlin are almost certainly out, and two more players may join then. Chris Smalling was removed at half time last night and the manager provided a reason as to why:
“He had a bad muscular feeling,” the boss told MUTV. “We were 3-0 up so we decided to change. Hopefully he can recover for the weekend.”
Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s complete absence from the squad was something of a surprise, given how Mourinho talked up his return to fitness before the game:
“The situation is that we played with Lingard, with Mata and Martial,” Mourinho told reporters. “I am not an Einstein, I don’t know a tactical system to play with four wingers at the same time. He has to work more to get the intensity and the real fitness to play at the high level.
“To have him here tonight on the bench and to give him 15 to 20 minutes, like I did with Memphis, I thought it would be better for him to work the way he did yesterday and much harder, obviously.
“I thought it would be much better for him to work today, like he did in the specific session, than to wait for his chance. But he is ready. He is ready very soon.”
This isn’t the first time that Mourinho has publicly questioned the intensity that Mkhitaryan is lacking since his move from Borussia Dortmund; games are coming thick and fast but even with the Armenian fit again, it seems that his boss isn’t willing to throw him into his starting XI. Not yet, anyway.