Juan Mata looks set to miss the rest of Manchester United’s season after Jose Mourinho admitted he expects the Spaniard to be out until the end of May.
United’s final Premier League game of the season is on May 21 against Crystal Palace, while the Europa League final – should United get there – would be on May 24 in Stockholm.
Mata, who is United’s second highest scorer this season with 10 goals, has been out since undergoing groin surgery at the end of last month.
Speaking after United’s 1-1 Europa League draw against Anderlecht on Thursday, Mourinho gave a brief update when asked about possible return dates for Mata, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling.
“Late May,” Mourinho said of Mata. “And Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, mid-May.”
Jones remains out with a foot injury while Smalling has an ankle problem. Both centre-backs were injured while on international duty with England last month.
A mid-May return means they could potentially be back for United’s final three Premier League matches of the season, against Tottenham (May 14), Southampton (May 17) and Palace.
The semi-finals of the Europa League are scheduled to be held over two legs on May 4 and May 11, so both are unlikely to feature in those matches should United advance past Anderlecht in the last eight.
Mourinho is hoping Eric Bailly and Marcos Rojo can stay fit for the rest of the season as United face up to as many as 12 matches – eight in the Premier League, a possible four more in Europe – within the next six weeks.
“There is nothing I can do [about the current defensive situation],” Mourinho said. “They [Bailly and Rojo] have to go until the limits. There is no other choice. We don’t have any other central defenders. They have to go. There is no other chance.
“If we arrived in a situation in the Premier League, I hope not, where mathematically the top four is not possible, then it’s an easy decision. Rest them and go with them in the Europa League – if we are still in the competition.
“But, in this moment, we are in this situation where we have two matches in hand and if we win both matches, we are in the top four. We have to fight for every game, so it’s amazing mentality by Eric and by Marcos, but we have to go.”
United will look to keep their top-four hopes alive on Sunday when they welcome Mourinho’s former side Chelsea to Old Trafford, live on Sky Sports 1 HD.
Mourinho is still looking for his first victory over the league leaders as United boss after two defeats already this season but he claims it is just another game for him.
“You say it’s emotional but, for me, it’s a game,” he asserted. “It’s one more game. No different for me. Not at all.
“[To compare the two teams] first of all, some guys are fresh, some guys are tired and that’s very important. But they are top for some reasons – it’s not just because they are fresh. It is also because they have individual quality. It’s because they have collective quality. They have a certain style of play. They stick to it. They do it very well. So they are a very strong team.”
SOURCE: The Nigerian Voice (sport)