Jose Mourinho may not start Wayne Rooney against Zorya Luhansk tonight, believing the Manchester United captain cannot afford a below-par display as he recovers fro a back problem.
Rooney was left out of the starting XI for the 4-1 Premier League win over Leicester on Saturday after heavy criticism of his recent performances.
Mourinho insisted his decision was based on exploiting Leicester’s weaknesses rather than as a reaction to Rooney’s form and that he had planned to start the striker in the Europa League tonight.
However, Rooney only returned to full training yesterday after a slight back issue, causing Mourinho to reconsider, as he seeks to “protect” the England captain.
The United boss said: “Wayne Rooney is selected, I didn’t decide yet if I start with him. He didn’t train yesterday, he did just a little bit of the session on Monday. Today was the first time that he had a training session with the other players and today is the training session where the intensity and the complexity is obviously reduced, because we have a game tomorrow.
“So, I was completely convinced of playing him tomorrow from the beginning, but with this situation in the last couple of days, I’m not sure if I’ll do that, because, with the situation that you create for him, I think really he can’t afford to have a performance that is not really good, because I’m here to protect him and not to put him in difficult situations, I have to analyse if the best thing for him is to start the game if he is not totally ready for it, so I’m going to discuss that with him and the medical staff.”
Mourinho confirmed Henrikh Mkhitaryan will again miss out with a thigh problem, though he did train yesterday, while full-back Luke Shaw was sent home because of illness.
However, winger Anthony Martial is fit and striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic will start.
United lost their opening Europa League game against Feyenoord two weeks ago, one of three defeats in a row, and Mourinho feels there is now little room for manoeuvre if they are to reach the last 32.
He has been studying little-known Ukrainian side Zorya and said: “It’s very important [to win]. If we don’t win, we have four matches and I would say we have to win all the last four matches, which is difficult.”
Elsewhere tonight, Southampton, who began their Europa League campaign with a 3-0 win over Sparta Prague, travel to Hapoel Beer Sheva in Israel, where kick-off is at 6pm.
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