Football

Mourinho counts on Smalling-Lindelof defensive partnership

GROUP A
 MAN UNITED BASEL

Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof will start at the heart of Manchester United's defence when they host Basel on their Champions League return tomorrow morning (Singapore time), manager Jose Mourinho confirmed yesterday.

Defenders Eric Bailly and Phil Jones, who have started all four of United's EPL games this season, are serving Uefa bans heading into the European campaign.

The duo helped United keep three consecutive clean sheets in the Premier League before their perfect start to the season ended with a 2-2 draw at Stoke City on Saturday.

Mourinho said: "He's (Jones) playing well for us.

"He's probably tired with two consecutive matches with the national team so it's good that on Tuesday he gets his rest and it's an opportunity for Smalling and Lindelof to play the Champions League match."

If Mourinho stays true to his word, then Smalling and Lindelof, United's close-season signing from Benfica, will pair up for the first time since United's 2-1 defeat by Real Madrid in the Uefa Super Cup last month.

Ahead of the Group A clash at Old Trafford, Mourinho also said that the Red Devils failed to progress under the leadership of David Moyes and Louis van Gaal following the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013.

Mourinho told the Sunday Times: "There was an evolution in the other clubs; there was no evolution in this club.

"In all the areas that make a team successful, I think we stopped in time."

"That was quite an empty period in this club with no evolution in areas that are important," added the man who has taken United back to the top of the Premier League early in the new season.

Moyes replaced Ferguson, but was sacked after 10 months following poor league results and the team's exit from domestic cup competitions and the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

Dutchman van Gaal took over but was replaced by Mourinho after two seasons as United failed to challenge for the Premier League title and did not qualify for last season's Champions League.

"Of course, in the first season I was trying to improve (this)... That's why I fought hard for trophies," said Mourinho, who won the League Cup and the Europa League, in his first season.

"That's why I prefer a Europa League victory than a third or fourth spot in the championship. Because the best way to accelerate the process is winning... Because winning gets you smiles."

In the other Group A fixture tomorrow morning, Portuguese club Benfica host Russian outfit CSKA Moscow. - REUTERS

Champions LeagueManchester UnitedJose Mourinho