Following Manchester United’s 1-0 victory over Celta Vigo in the Europa League, Robbie Earle spoke with ProSoccerTalk about United’s priorities for the remainder of the season and their upcoming match against Arsenal.
Q: Does Jose Mourinho go all-out for the Europa League now that Man United are that much closer to the final?
Robbie Earle: Yeah, everybody was looking at the lineups for the Europa League and which way Jose would go. I think having gotten to the semifinal and now being 1-0 up from the away leg, they are in poll position to finish the job off at Old Trafford next week and then look forward to the final. It’s possibly going to be against Ajax to give them a Champions League spot.
In many respects if you look at the gamble in terms of opponents still to play in the Premier League and the trickiness of that and then maybe two games max in the Europa League, you can understand why the gamble will probably be more skewed toward the Europa League.
Q: Is that the right move from Mourinho?
RE: Yeah, I think it’s a gamble, but a calculated one. Due to injuries and suspended players he hasn’t had available I think he was always looking to head that way. He’s a great one-off tactician manager. We’ve seen it in days like the Manchester derby, recently against Chelsea when he can plot his team to make sure they get a result. Cup football very much suits him and I just think he likes having his own destiny in his own hands, which he will feel more in the Europa League than he will in the Premier League.
That leads us into the weekend when they have a huge game against Arsenal and a manager Mourinho hasn’t particularly liked over the years so he isn’t going to want to make it easy for Arsenal and give them the points. I still think Manchester United will want to go win that game. They can put a little more pressure on Arsenal and pretty much end their top four hopes.
Q: Mourinho has said that he will rest players against Arsenal if he needs to. Do you think he will?
RE: I think it’s a little much to say rest, he may rotate. I think we have to be careful with Manchester United. We’re not talking about Bournemouth or Southampton or Burnley, you know teams that might struggle for depth. I mean we’re still talking about Manchester United and I know they have injuries but they spent 200-odd million dollars at the start of the season on players. So yes, you have your injuries and suspensions and things, but I don’t feel we should be going down the road too much of poor old Manchester United because Manchester United in the past have been successful winning the treble at one time when you’ve got to play cup finals, league games, European games and that’s what successful teams do. They keep on grinding out results and getting results to get to finals.
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I think we will see some rotations of players, but this is Manchester United. [Paul] Pogba was good today. [Marouane] Fellaini can’t play in the Premier League, but can play in Europa which is a bonus so some things will take care of themselves. [Anthony] Martial could come back in. Obviously [Marcus] Rashford scoring today, he’s 19-years-old, he’d play every day if he could. You’ve got [Juan] Mata coming back and Michael Carrick may have a role to play so there’s still plenty enough there for United to get a result at Arsenal and then turn their attention to next Thursday.
Q: Is it an admission of failure from Man United this season that Mourinho has openly said they are prioritizing the Europa League and thus putting the Premier League on the back-burner?
RE: If we look back to the start of the season Mourinho talked about, we’re Manchester United, we have to go for titles, so that was the initial aim. I think during the course of the season, despite them being on this unbeaten run in the Premier League, there have been too many draws, 14, many of those at home. It’s very unlike Manchester United, where they generally put teams to the sword and get their result.
So I think it’s almost been a sort of realism of the season that’s gone on. That this team, this squad is not yet good enough to challenge for the top spot. It’s all out to make the top four and obviously the Europa League has been the best opportunity as we come toward the end of the season. Mourinho’s very smart. He’s won the League Cup, if he wins the Europa League or grabs a top four spot then that would go down as a successful team, although not maybe the success United have had in the past.
The Europa League is everything because of the Champions League spot now. In fairness to him, he’s taken the competition pretty seriously from day one. Whereas some teams I always think work hard to get into Europe and then work just as hard to get out of it. I don’t think Mourinho is that guy. I think he likes to win silverware regardless. I think he recognizes the value of the Champions League spot and he probably deep down recognized after a certain point this season this team may not be good enough to be top four so he gave himself and the club a chance, and you have to say that’s good management.
Q: What is the result of the Arsenal v. Man United match?
RE: That’s a good one. It’s so difficult to call because Arsenal are in this position where they have this whole sort of negativity around the football club, that’s part what’s happening on the pitch, part what’s happening with the manager.
Manchester United are in a reasonably relaxed frame of mind. There is certainly less pressure on them and Mourinho’s already almost got his excuse if they lose, that you know they are focusing on Thursday and that’s the big thing.
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I think because of the circumstances, the pressure of losing the North London derby last week, which means Spurs are going to finish above an Arsene Wenger team for the first time, because it’s so important to try and grab that top four spot, if I have to go one way I’m going to slightly tip it Arsenal’s way. Their need is greater and Manchester United have a ready-made excuse. I don’t feel Arsenal are necessarily in great form, but because of their need to get the points and because of United’s situation I tip them the slight favorites.