Sat, Mar 11, 2017 - Page 16 News List

United eye return leg, despite Chelsea date

AFP, ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia

Manchester United’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan, top left, scores against Rostov in their UEFA Europa League round-of-16 first leg in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, on Thursday.

Photo: Reuters

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho is hopeful the obstacle of a trip to Chelsea in the FA Cup does not hinder his side’s prospects of completing a UEFA Europa League round-of-16 win over Rostov.

United drew 1-1 in Russia in the first leg of their tie on Thursday after Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s first-half opener was canceled out by an Aleksandr Bukharov strike shortly after halftime.

It was a good result after a long trip for a match played on a shocking surface — so bad that Mourinho had questioned whether the match should have gone ahead at all.

United host Rostov in the return at Old Trafford on Thursday next week, but before that they go to Chelsea in the FA Cup quarter-finals on Monday, meaning the Portuguese will have to adequately manage his squad to avoid fatigue, and he acknowledged the importance of the Europa League as a potential route into next season’s UEFA Champions League for a team sixth in the English Premier League.

“We want to keep the two goals open. In the Europa League, if you manage to go to the quarter-finals, then in the quarter-finals, you feel it so we have to try by every means,” said Mourinho, whose side have already won the EFL Cup this season. “We have a trophy in our pocket which is always a good thing a good feeling for everyone, but now we have the Premier League to try to be in the top four, we have the Europa League to try to beat Rostov and on Monday we cannot go with a bad team. Manchester United is too big. It’s not Chelsea’s fault that we’ll play on Monday. So we have to make changes, for sure, but we cannot go to Stamford Bridge with a bad team.”

Of the match in Rostov, Mourinho admitted being disappointed at his side’s inability to hold their lead, but hinted that the outcome still suited him.

“You know, an away goal is always positive. It’s better 1-1 than 0-0, but the game is open,” Mourinho said. “The result is open and this Rostov team, they have experience at playing big matches, big opponents and big stadiums. I don’t think it’s a problem for them to compete against us. They play [on] Sunday against Terek Grozny, we play [on] Monday against Chelsea. For us, it’s difficult, but we are one step from being in the quarter-finals.”

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