Football

Mourinho may prioritise 
Europa League over EPL

United boss hints at resting key players for European competition if top-four finish beyond them

MAN UNITED EVERTON

Manchester United may field weakened teams in the league to boost their chances of winning the Europa League if a top-four finish seems beyond them, manager Jose Mourinho has said.

United were held 0-0 by West Bromwich Albion last Saturday, leaving them five points adrift of fourth-placed Manchester City but with a game in hand.

United visit Belgian side Anderlecht in the first leg of their Europa League quarter-final on April 13 before hosting the return a week later.

A top-four Premier League place is needed to qualify for the Champions League, but United could also grab a place in the competition next season by winning the Europa League.

Mourinho told British media: "I just want to think that against Everton, we are going to do what we tried to do (against West Brom), to try to play with our best team and try to win the match.

"And after Everton, we go to Sunderland with the same perspective... then the Europa League comes and I don't know.

"It's possible that you see me play in the Premier League with a team where I'm going to protect the players that I consider fundamental for the Europa League."

Man United have never won the Europa League or its predecessor, the Uefa Cup.

Their hopes of a strong Premier League finish have been boosted by the timely return of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Ander Herrera from suspension.

France midfielder Paul Pogba is also likely to be fit again for the Everton game tomorrow morning (Singapore time), after taking part in a training session after Saturday's match.

Everton manager Ronald Koeman hinted that he may adopt a defensive approach against Man United.

"We know that they have difficulties at home in the last few results. They have a lot of ball possession and were the better team in every game," said the Dutchman.

"They are still a really strong team and we know some players will come back for them.

"It's a great stadium to play football and we like to play our way. We like to dominate the game but we know we need to defend United.''

Meanwhile, Luke Shaw's United future looks bleak after Mourinho accused the left back of being a "long way behind" his teammates.

A fine start to last season was brought to an excruciating end by a double leg break, but the 2016/17 campaign has arguably been even more frustrating for the 21-year-old.

He has made just two United appearances in the last four months and, during his last match a month ago - against Bournemouth - Press Association Sport understands Mourinho was angered by the left back speaking to an opposition player at half-time.

Shaw's place in the pecking order was hammered home by Mourinho leaving him out of the squad entirely on Saturday, despite a spate of absentees leading to Matthew Willock being named on the bench for the first time.

Asked what the left back needs to do to get on the bench, Mourinho said: "Who? Luke Shaw? It's difficult for him to be on the bench. Because I cannot compare him with Ashley Young, with (Matteo) Darmian, with (Daley) Blind.

"I cannot compare the way he trains, the way he commits, the focus, the ambition. I cannot compare. He is a long way behind." - WIRE SERVICES

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