Manchester United manager José Mourinho has admitted that the condition of Rostov’s pitch will probably determine his starting eleven on Thursday night.
The Premier League side travel to Russia in the last 16 of the Europa League and despite the possibility of another trophy and Champions League qualification far in the horizon, Mourinho will not be taking any risks with players that he feels could become injured in the conditions.
Speaking at his press conference ahead of the tie, Mourinho singled out Henrikh Mkhitaryan as someone who may not be called upon due to the state of the Olimp-2 pitch:
“I don’t know if Henrikh Mkhitaryan is going to play. I don’t know.
“It is hard for me to believe that we are going to play on that field, if you can call it a field. I don’t know what team to play.
“I was expecting something more playable. In a very similar pitch in the summer in China we decided not to play but it looks like we have to play.
“I told one gentleman from UEFA of my concerns. He just told me the players are insured, so what happens to them is no problem.”
Rostov have already agreed no to train on the pitch for fear of damaging it even further ahead of Thursday’s fixture.
Here’s the pitch in Rostov. Can see why jose is unhappy pic.twitter.com/i2gqvQUGcr
— Paul Hirst (@hirstclass) March 8, 2017
Nonetheless, Mkhitaryan seems unlikely to start in the match, while Luke Shaw, Wayne Rooney and the suspended Eric Bailly have not been included in the travelling party. Bastian Schweinsteiger has a minor injury so has also been left out, while it remains to be seen if Zlatan Ibrahimovic is handed one more stat before he begins his three-match domestic suspension.
This is not the first time under Mourinho’s tenure that Man United have had issues with a playing surface – a pre-season friendly against Manchester City in Beijing (which the manager was alluding to) was called off due to a waterlogged pitch, while they were forced to play against Zorya Luhansk at the end of last year despite the pitch being frozen just 24 hours earlier.
Whichever starting eleven Mourinho puts out, Rostov are not a side to be taken lightly. The 2016 Russian Premier League runners-up have already beaten Bayern Munich at this ground in the Champions League this season and will be eager to carry on the country’s strong record in the Europa League.