José Mourinho won’t buy centre half despite Marcos Rojo injury

Only Smalling and Jones available for Man United’s clashes with Hull and Liverpool

Marcos Rojo picked up an injury during the first half of Manchester United’s 4-0 FA Cup win over Reading. Photograph: Getty/Clive Brunskill

Marcos Rojo picked up an injury during the first half of Manchester United’s 4-0 FA Cup win over Reading. Photograph: Getty/Clive Brunskill

 

José Mourinho will not move for a centre back despite Marcos Rojo’s injury leaving only Phil Jones and Chris Smalling available going into Tuesday’s EFL semi-final against Hull City and Sunday’s Premier League meeting with Liverpool.

Rojo suffered a muscle strain in Saturday’s 4-0 FA Cup third-round win over Reading and had to be replaced after 19 minutes. As Eric Bailly is away for up to six weeks with Ivory Coast on Africa Cup of Nations duty, the manager is set to be down to only two dedicated central defenders as United host Hull in the EFL first leg, then Jürgen Klopp’s side in a fixture pivotal to each team’s title challenge.

Mourinho is yet to discover how serious Rojo’s problem is. Following the victory over Reading the 53-year-old was careful not to put a timescale on how long the Argentinian may be out. “People like to say: ‘First degree, X days out, second degree X days out.’ Let’s wait to see,” he said.

Yet Rojo’s injury has not changed Mourinho’s strategy regarding strengthening his central defensive department, though any further setback may force him to rethink.

José Fonte, a long-term target, would then be an option as the 33-year-old has told Southampton he wants to leave. Fonte’s club-mate Virgil van Dijk has also impressed this term and Benfica’s Swedish centre half Victor Lindelof, whom United hope to land in the summer, is a further player of interest.

Bailly, whose Ivory Coast side beat Sweden in a friendly on Sunday, is keen to play with Lindelof. “We have many good central defenders – Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones – but I hope I get to play with Lindelof,” he told fotbollskanalen.

Mourinho has said his team will play Hull with “all the power” they have in an attempt to establish an advantage for the return. United host Marco Silva’s team at Old Trafford in the midst of a fine run of form, Saturday’s 4-0 FA Cup third-round win over Reading an eighth consecutive victory and 14th match unbeaten. United are sixth in the Premier League, 26 points better off than Hull, who are bottom.

Yet Mourinho is intent that United take Hull, whose manager Silva is a friend, seriously. “We will face Hull with all the power we have,” he said. “The second leg is away so if we can do something in the first leg to give us an advantage, we will try that. Hull may look at the semi-final as a big occasion. Maybe for them, they have a more important game three days later in Premier League. Liverpool is a big match for us [on Sunday] but we want to be in the final.”

Mourinho has won the competition three times, in 2005, 2007 and 2015, with Chelsea. As well as their title challenge and progressing in the FA Cup, United are in the Europa League last-32. Yet the 53-year-old wants United to also try and claim the EFL Cup.

He said: “For big clubs, a competition is a competition. I was never good at choosing competitions. You get a very busy fixture list but you are in these competitions to try and win. Always felt it is a cup. I won it twice in Cardiff but at Wembley the meaning is better. Why not try? We are going to try.”

Of Silva, Mourinho said: “Hull have a new manager, an intelligent guy who will organise his team for sure. It is not easy to come to the Premier League when you are a foreign coach. I spoke to him on Friday. He knows it is difficult because they are bottom of the league but it is a big opportunity for him.

“He is a good young coach. He went to Greece. Nobody knows he was champion there. Now he comes to the big one. It is a big opportunity. I hope he loses three matches [against United] and wins all the rest. His formation was [always] good.”

Silva managed Portugal’s Estoril from 2011-14, and then Sporting and Olympiakos for a season each. Mourinho added: “He started from below, he was not given a top job immediately, and did well in a small job. He goes to Sporting. He won cup and finished second, goes to Greece and is champion. He is very stable. In spite of him being so young he is experienced. He is mature. I look forward. I would love him to do well. But it is hard to jump from the bottom of the league.”

Mourinho will field a changed XI from the Reading game. “I play with the players who did not play,” he said. “Against Hull I will play with fresh players. It is easy to know our team: Zlatan [Ibrahimovic], [Paul] Pogba, [Antonio] Valencia, [Ander] Herrera. To win it we have to win three matches. Hull and Liverpool or Southampton. The fact we are winning matches is good. We are not going to throw away an opportunity [to continue].”

(Guardian service)

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