Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho believes his side’s chances of sealing Champions League qualification through a top-four domestic finish have dissipated and is prepared to rest key players for Sunday’s crucial trip to Arsenal.
United face Celta Vigo in the first leg of their Europa League semi-final showdown at Balaidos on Thursday in the knowledge that winning the tournament would guarantee a place in Europe’s elite club competition next term.
The Red Devils are just a point behind fourth-placed Manchester City and a Champions League spot, although Mourinho considers that margin to be an unbridgeable gap, and insists his big-hitters could be dropped for Sunday’s clash with the Gunners.
“In relation to the Premier League, I think it is too late,” said Mourinho.
“In the past month of April we played nine matches, seven of them in the Premier League and we had too many problems, too many players absent.
“Because of that we had some players who had to play 750, 800 minutes of football and we paid the price. We played against fresh teams and we were in accumulation.
“In this moment the perspective is different because the Europa League becomes even more important for us.
“Thinking about us as a team, winning this competition would be a good achievement and would allow us back into the Champions League. If we have to rest players next weekend [against Arsenal] then we are going to do that.”
Winning the Europa League would not only hand Mourinho a second piece of silverware this season after the League Cup, but also ensure United won a trophy which has so far in their history eluded them.
“The achievement, I don’t think too much about the achievement, but it is the only competition that Manchester United, as a club, has never won,” added Mourinho.
“It would be great to close the circle and say we are a club that has won every single competition in the football world. For us, as a team, it would be a good achievement given the amount of problems we’ve had.”
Mourinho has confirmed that injury-prone former Southampton full-back Luke Shaw has been ruled out for the remainder of the season after suffering ligament damage in his foot during Sunday’s draw with Swansea.
United’s defensive woes have been eased, however, by the availability of Eric Bailly, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, while Paul Pogba and Juan Mata are also ready to return.