English Premiership

Mourinho bets the house on Europa League glory

2017-05-22 12:47
Jose Mourinho (Getty Images)

London - Though he denies it, Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has gambled the club's season on the outcome of Wednesday's Europa League final against Ajax in Stockholm.

Having missed out on Champions League qualification via the Premier League, United must beat Ajax at the Friends Arena to secure a return to Europe's elite competition.

Mourinho has made his priorities clear in recent weeks by resting players for league fixtures, but he claims United's injury problems left him with no choice.

"It was not a gamble. It was a simple decision," said Mourinho, who picked a team with an average age of 22 years and 284 days for Sunday's season-ending 2-0 home win over Crystal Palace.

"When we lost players in a period of 17 matches in seven weeks, it was the impossible job. It was not a gamble, just a consequence of our situation."

Mourinho won the UEFA Cup, as the Europa League was previously known, with Porto in 2003, but the two-time Champions League winner has been publicly dismissive of the competition in recent years.

Upon returning to Chelsea in 2013, Mourinho said of the tournament, which the London club had won the previous season: "I don't want to win the Europa League. It would be a big disappointment for me."

United's performances during this season's tournament suggest their players were not sure how much they wanted to win it either.

They lost their first two away games, against Feyenoord and Fenerbahce, needed extra time to beat Anderlecht in the quarter-finals and were given a scare by Celta Vigo in the semi-finals.

Now that the trophy is within touching distance, Mourinho has started to paint the tournament in a different light.

He has already masterminded a League Cup success and has suggested Europa League glory would mean United have had a more successful season than trophy-less top-four rivals like Manchester City and Liverpool.

In the words of defender Phil Jones: "People will say we've not had a good season, but would you rather finish second and win nothing or win two cups and be in the Champions League?"

Victory on Wednesday would enable United to complete their collection of trophies.

They can also become only the fifth club - after Juventus, Ajax, Bayern Munich and Chelsea - to have won the Champions League, the Europa League and the now defunct European Cup Winners' Cup.

The final will not, however, be a glorious homecoming for United's Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

He will watch from the stands, along with fellow injury victims Luke Shaw, Marcos Rojo and Ashley Young, after sustaining knee ligament damage during the semi-final second leg win at home to Anderlecht.

Mourinho has confirmed that Sergio Romero will continue to start instead of David de Gea in goal, while Jones and Chris Smalling are vying for the right to replace suspended centre-back Eric Bailly.

Ajax approach the game with none of the cloying pressure that United must contend with.

Peter Bosz's exciting young team have carried the club to a first European final since a 4-2 loss on penalties to Juventus in the deciding match of the 1995-96 Champions League.

Ajax won the previous season's Champions League and famous figures from their 1990s golden team have helped to restore the club to former glories.

Edwin van der Sar and Marc Overmars are on the board of directors, while Dennis Bergkamp is one of Bosz's assistants.

There is even an on-pitch link in the form of 18-year-old winger Justin Kluivert, son of Patrick, who scored the only goal in the 1995 Champions League final against AC Milan.

"I feel no pressure," says Bosz, a former midfielder capped eight times by the Netherlands. "Everyone dreams of these games, so there's no pressure, just a big opportunity.

"They have a bigger budget for sure and if they feel pressure because of that, then OK. We like to play good football and hope to win."

 

Read News24’s Comments Policy

Fixtures
Saturday, 22 February 2020
Chelsea v Tottenham Hotspur, Stamford Bridge 14:30
Sheffield United v Brighton & Hove Albion, Bramall Lane 17:00
Crystal Palace v Newcastle United, Selhurst Park 17:00
Southampton v Aston Villa, St. Mary's Stadium 17:00
Burnley v AFC Bournemouth, Turf Moor 17:00
Leicester City v Manchester City, King Power Stadium 19:30
Sunday, 23 February 2020
Wolverhampton Wanderers v Norwich City, Molineux Stadium 16:00
Manchester United v Watford, Old Trafford 16:00
Arsenal v Everton, Emirates Stadium 18:30
Monday, 24 February 2020
Liverpool v West Ham United, Anfield 22:00
Logs
Team P W PTS
Previous Results

Date Home Team Result Away Team
Vote

And the 2019/20 English Premiership champions will be ... ?

 
 
Men
Women
Love 2 Meet
English Premiership flutter

Take Sport24's "expert" tips at your peril...

Sport24 on Twitter

Follow Sport24 news on Twitter

Featured

The 2019/20 Absa Premiership season is in full swing. Will Mamelodi Sundowns retain their title? Or can one of Kaizer Chiefs, Orlando Pirates, Wits, SuperSport United - or another team perhaps - snatch glory from the Brazilians? Be sure to visit Sport24 for all the latest news!

Latest blogs
 

Twitter Follow Sport24 on Twitter

Facebook "Like" Sport24's Facebook page

WIN Enter and win with Sport24!

BlackBerry Stay in the loop on your BlackBerry

RSS Feeds Sport news delivered really simply.

 
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.