Mourinho remains focused on Europa League despite UCL aspirations

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It hasn’t been the masterful Jose Mourinho we’re used to in 2016/17, but the Manchester United boss could still very well guide his team to the UEFA Champions League next season.

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The Red Devils will take on Spanish side Celta Vigo in the second leg of their UEFA Europa League semifinal on Thursday, and a win would put the Premier League giants one step closer to the UCL this fall.

The Portuguese manager has had a difficult time in his first season at Old Trafford, largely due to the side’s constant injury battles, but Mourinho says the task is “simple” on Thursday.

“The situation is simple,” Mourinho said. “Seventeen matches in seven weeks with 16 players is impossible. It’s not a gamble, it was a simple decision, a decision based on common sense and a consequence of our situation. We are giving everything we can, the players, myself, everyone. We are giving everything so when you give everything, no problem.”

United continues to play without several key players including top goalscorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Eric Bailly and Chris Smalling, which has forced Mourinho to select from a small group of squad members during the season half of the season.

As one of the four remaining sides in this season’s Europa League, United is in a superb position of at very least reaching the competition’s finale. The Red Devils currently hold a 1-0 lead over Celta as the two sides head to England for the return leg.

While winning the UEL would guarantee United a spot in the UCL next season, Mourinho and Co. could also book a place in Europe’s top club competition in 2017/18 by finishing in the top four in England.

Man United sits fifth in the PL standings as things stand, trailing fourth place Manchester City by four points with each team having three games remaining on the docket and Arsenal tight on their heels.

“If we don’t qualify for Champions League, it’s because we’re not good enough to play in it,” Mourinho said. “I try to look at it in a pragmatic way. Obviously it’s the competition you want to be [in]. But I think in this moment we just have to focus on where we are and nobody has more motivation than I have to try to win tomorrow.”