Belfast Telegraph

Manchester United v Saint-Etienne: Chase for cup glory could end up costing United, says Jose Mourinho

Manchester Utd v Saint-Etienne, Europa League Round of 32, Old Trafford, tonight, 8.05pm

By Simon Peach

Jose Mourinho believes Manchester United will be "in trouble" if they continue to fight on all fronts.

This evening's Europa League last-32 first leg against St Etienne kicks off a frantic 11-day period as the second leg in France comes after an FA Cup tie at Blackburn and is followed by the small matter of the EFL Cup final against Southampton.

There will be little let-up if United emerge victorious from that run of matches as more fixtures would leave them with a bloated, uneven schedule.

Mourinho believes balancing domestic and European exertions will stretch his squad and ultimately hamper their chances of success - not that the Portuguese will allow his side to take their foot off the accelerator.

"We cannot choose the competitions at Manchester United," the Red Devils boss said on the eve of welcoming St Etienne. "We know that our situation is really complicated.

"We know that the Europa League is also a competition where we play on Thursdays and that makes it even more difficult for us.

"The accumulation of FA Cup, League Cup and match postponements is really hard for us.

"If we progress in the competitions, we will be in trouble in April and May. But we cannot choose competitions, so we play them to win.

"I think it's also a good way to give the team experience and international experience is always a plus.

"The Europa League is not a competition we want to play in, but it's a competition we are playing in and we respect it."

Mourinho is desperate for United to return to Europe's top table, but believes Champions League qualification through the Premier League will be harder to secure than for others as cup progress will "create many, many problems".

"We know that it's going to be very difficult," the former Chelsea and Real Madrid boss said, with just four points separating his side in sixth and second-placed Manchester City.

"We know obviously it can have an impact in the Premier League because we are competing against teams in other circumstances.

"For example, Liverpool play only in the Premier League, Chelsea in the Premier League and the FA Cup. We still have Tottenham in a similar situation as us, but we want to progress. That's the point.

"We prefer difficult but progressing to easy and being knocked out of the competitions.

"We will go seriously tomorrow and seriously against Blackburn on Sunday."

Luke Shaw will be hoping to be involved at Ewood Park having been overlooked for tonight's match, while Phil Jones, out with a foot complaint, will want to face his former club.

Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick will not be risked against St Etienne, but Mourinho plans to name a strong side - and risk the wrath of Paul Pogba's mum.

Tonight's match against Les Verts pits the world's most expensive player against his older brother Florentin, leaving the Pogba family hoping for a draw.

"We spoke in a good way, a funny way," Mourinho said of Paul. "I think it is a good, nice destiny.

"I think only mother Pogba is in a little bit of trouble, which is normal. It's difficult for the lady to choose - it's not difficult, it's impossible!

"I know from Paul that his mum wants a draw, but next week one son will be happy and another one will be sad.

"But I think for the mum it's a bit of a problem, but they will certainly enjoy playing against each other.

"Paul is excited, Florentin for sure the same. I think it's a good thing."

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