Jose Mourinho does not like to rotate his squad. He says that he has to do it, and he does move a player or two in from time to time, but he largely starts the same squad whenever possible and leans on his stars for every single match they are available. We saw that again on Wednesday when, despite carrying a 3-0 aggregate lead on St. Etienne into the second leg of Manchester United’s round of 32 Europa League tie, Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan were all in the squad, among other regular starters. And the Red Devils may pay for it.
This wasn’t your average failure to rotate. Not only were they three goals clear of an overmatched team, but they have the League Cup final in four days and every incentive in the world to rest some of their best players ahead of that clash at Wembley.
It took just 25 minutes for Manchester United to suffer for it. Henrikh Mkhitaryan grabbed what appeared to be his hamstring and left the match. He’d already scored a goal, making it 4-0 on aggregate, but his day was done. The club provided little information on his status after the match, but it’s fair to say that his availability is very much in doubt.
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That alone makes Mourinho’s decision to go heavy with first choice players a poor one, but it could end up looking even worse on Sunday. Mourinho made Pogba and Ibrahimovic play the full 90 minutes, despite winning 4-0 on aggregate and being in complete control of the match. A red card to Eric Bailly didn’t really turn the match in St. Etienne’s direction or put the Red Devils in any real danger. They cruised just the same, and there were Pogba and Ibrahimovic sprinting until the very end.
Will the duo be a little sluggish at Wembley? Will Mkhitaryan be available? Will anyone else be worse off for Wednesday’s trip to France?
The problem is none of these questions should be asked. They were 3-0 up on a team they didn’t need their best to beat and had a cup final in four days. There’s never been a better time for rotation, but Mourinho didn’t. It’s not what he does. Hopefully it won’t hurt Manchester United too bad when they play for a trophy on Sunday.