Mourinho and United focus on Burnley boost
Jose Mourinho’s mood was a little brighter on Wednesday after an EFL Cup victory over Manchester City, but there is still much work to be done in order to get his season back on track.
The Manchester United manager issued a public apology to the club’s supporters after an embarrassing 4-0 defeat at Chelsea last Sunday, which left his team seventh in the Premier League.
Despite only winning one of their last six league matches, United are just six points behind leaders City as they go into Saturday’s home match against Burnley.
There is plenty of time to close the gap, and winger Juan Mata is optimistic that an improvement in form is imminent.
“After a defeat, everyone is going to speak badly about the team, about the manager. But we, as a group, need to stay strong and believe we can do great things together,” said Mata.
“We showed that after our heavy defeat, we are back.
“We were very strong in our minds these past days after critics and we showed on Wednesday that if we are focused 100%, we can win against such a good team.”
The concern for Mourinho is that injury problems are mounting.
Striker Marcus Rashford limped out of Wednesday’s match with nine minutes left clutching his thigh, and is being assessed by United’s medical team.
That setback came after defender Eric Bailly was ruled out for two months with lateral knee ligament damage sustained during the defeat at Chelsea, while forwards Wayne Rooney and Anthony Martial are battling injuries too, along with centre-back Chris Smalling.
Martial, withdrawn from the squad to face City because of a minor inflammation in his foot, is expected to be fit to play against Burnley, with Rooney and Smalling likely to overcome muscle problems to be available for selection too.
As he monitors his squad’s injury problems, Mourinho is likely to be less concerned about the prospect of another touchline ban, having been charged with improper conduct by the Football Association on Thursday.
Mourinho, who has until Monday to respond to the charge, faces being punished for breaking FA rules that prevent managers from speaking about referees before matches.
He questioned the decision to appoint Manchester-based referee Anthony Taylor to take charge of United’s match at Liverpool on October 17.
It is not the first time that Mourinho has got into trouble with the authorities for comments about referees, and although he will be on the touchline for the Burnley game, United’s players may have to cope with the manager spending some time in the stands soon.
Few would give Burnley much chance of causing an upset at Old Trafford, but they have beaten Liverpool this season, and are in upbeat mood after Scott Arfield’s late goal gave them a 2-1 victory over Everton last Saturday.
Sean Dyche’s side, though, have yet to pick up a point away from home this season, with Sam Vokes’ penalty in a 3-1 defeat at Southampton two weeks ago being the only goal they have scored on their travels.
Andre Gray is available to return to Burnley’s attack, having served a four-match suspension imposed for offensive social media posts made in 2012, which came to wider attention earlier this season.
Dyche will celebrate the fourth anniversary of his appointment as Burnley manager on Sunday, but has acknowledged that he faces a difficult task to mark the weekend with a win.
“For all the noise that’s been made about the ups and downs of Manchester United over the past couple of weeks they’re still a fine side,” said Dyche.
“I look at the manager, the club, the players they’ve got and they’re still a super strong group of people operating at the highest level.”