Jose Mourinho may leave Wayne Rooney out of Manchester United’s starting side for the second match in a row when they face Ukrainian side Zorya Luhansk in the Europa League on Thursday.
Rooney was on the bench for United’s weekend game with Premier League champions Leicester City and didn’t get on until very late in the game as Mourinho’s side showed their best form of the season in a superb 4-1 win.
That led to huge speculation over whether Rooney has a future under Mourinho at United, where he made his club debut, scoring a hat-trick in a 6-2 Champions League win over Fenerbahce, exactly 12 years ago on Wednesday.
“Wayne Rooney is selected (in the squad). I did not decide yet if I start with him,” Mourinho said on Wednesday ahead of Thursday’s match at Old Trafford.
“He didn’t train yesterday (Tuesday), he did just a little bit of the session on Monday,” the United manager added.
“He had a back problem. So today was the first time he had a training session with the other players and today it was a training session where the intensity and complexity is obviously reduced because we have a game tomorrow.
“So I was completely convinced of playing him tomorrow from the beginning with this situation in the last couple of days, but I am not sure if I do that because of the situation you (the media) created with him.
“He can’t afford to have a performance that is not really good,” the Portuguese boss explained.
“Because I am here to protect him and not to put him in difficult situations, I have to analyse whether the best thing for him is to start the game if he is not totally ready for it.
“So I am going to discuss that with him and the medical staff and decide whether he starts or is on the bench.”
– Mata’s ‘natural habitat’ –
Meanwhile, another senior United player appears to have a far more rosy future at Old Trafford, with Juan Mata having convinced Mourinho that he has an important role to play with the club.
The Spanish playmaker was a £37.1 million ($48.2 million, 43 million euros) signing by David Moyes from Mourinho’s Chelsea in January 2014.
But Mourinho’s arrival at Old Trafford cast doubt over whether Mata would remain in Manchester.
“I didn’t sell him (Mata) because my job is not to buy and sell (at Chelsea),” said Mourinho. “My job is to coach and my job is to work on the pitch. My job is to advise my boards on the transfer policy. I don’t buy and I don’t sell and I never did.
“Secondly it was that he (Mata) was one who asked to leave and when a player asks to leave I think you always have to think twice.”
Mourinho added: “My project at Chelsea, he was a good player, my project at Manchester United is a very good player.
“There are big differences, at Man United I had more players to play transitional football. Football is the main objective, we are not so physically strong and compact and playing in a defensive block like we did when we won the title in 2014/15 (at Chelsea).
“The football we want to play here is different. We are in the beginning of that process.
“I think he (Mata) was very adept to do that with his qualities. We need players with these qualities. He has found a very good natural habitat.”