LONDON - Jose Mourinho will play a weakened team in the Premier League to ‘protect’ key players for Europe if he believes Manchester United’s hopes of a top-four finish are fading.
An eighth league draw at Old Trafford this season - and 11th in total - dealt United another blow in the race for Champions League places.
Their best chance of qualification may be via the Europa League, and Mourinho is ready to prioritise the quarter-final against Anderlecht if his team do not pick up enough points from tomorrow’s game at home to Everton and Sunday’s trip to Sunderland.
‘Until it’s impossible mathematically, we keep trying,’ he said. ‘This is a week without the Europa League. So this week we have to think about the Premier League and nothing else. Then we have Anderlecht in the quarter-finals of the Europa League, which is very important for us.
‘It’s possible that I play in the Premier League with a team to protect the players that I consider fundamental for the Europa League. But only if the results in the next matches put us in a situation where it becomes almost impossible to make the top four.’
Mourinho was good to his word three years ago when he fielded a weakened Chelsea team at Anfield to keep players fresh for the Champions League semi-final against Atletico Madrid, but still secured a famous win to derail Liverpool’s title challenge.
At least Mourinho can expect to have Zlatan Ibrahimovic available for the rest of the campaign as United’s talisman prepares to return from a three-match ban against Everton.
Ander Herrera is also back after suspension, and Paul Pogba could be available after missing two games with a hamstring injury.
‘I cannot say he is ready for Tuesday because I don’t know, but I don’t think Pogba is a long-term injury,’ said Mourinho.
The Portuguese had endured another frustrating afternoon after seeing West Bromwich join the likes of Burnley, Hull, Stoke, Bournemouth and West Ham in holding his team at Old Trafford.
It has been United’s undoing in this campaign, but Albion boss Tony Pulis has no doubts that Mourinho will get it right next season and win the title.
‘I don’t think he’ll hang around unless he thinks he can win it,’ said Pulis. ‘It will stick in his craw that they are not there at the moment. He’s just a winner. He’s relentless and he’ll do it.’
Credit, though, must go to the visitors for a wonderfully disciplined display following their win over Arsenal.
Jonny Evans, who was outstanding for Albion, has come to appreciate just how much teams raise their game to play at Old Trafford. ‘There is no doubt that happens because I’ve seen it now,’ said former United defender Evans. ‘Our concentration levels went through the roof. It’s the biggest away game of the season.’
Luke Shaw, meanwhile, is heading for the Old Trafford exit this summer after Mourinho claimed that his attitude isn’t as good as Manchester United’s other left-backs - Ashley Young, Matteo Darmian and Daley Blind.
Shaw, 21, has played just once for United since the end of January and was not even on the bench against West Brom.
‘It’s difficult for him to be on the bench because I cannot compare him with Ashley Young, with Darmian, or with Blind,’ said Mourinho. ‘I cannot compare the way he trains, the way he commits, the focus, the ambition. He is a long way behind.’
SUPER STAT: Jose Mourinho has won only 40 per cent of his Premier League home games as United manager. Louis van Gaal won 68.4 per cent of his Premier League home games at the club.
MANCHESTER UNITED (4-2-3-1): De Gea 5.5; Valencia 6.5, Bailly 6.5, Rojo 6, Young 6.5; Carrick 6.5, Fellaini 6; Lingard 5.5, Mkhitaryan 6 (Rooney 74min, 5.5), Martial 5; Rashford 6.5. Subs not used: Blind, Romero, Fosu-Mensah, Darmian, Tuanzebe, Willock. Booked: Rojo, Fellaini, Rooney.
WEST BROMWICH ALBION (4-2-3-1): Foster 7; Dawson 6.5, McAuley 7.5, Evans 8, Nyom 6.5; Fletcher 6.5, Livermore 6; Chadli 5.5 (Yacob 67, 6), Brunt 6, McClean 6.5 (Morrison 57, 6); Robson-Kanu 6.5 (Rondon 70, 6). Subs not used: Wilson, Myhill, Harper, Field. Booked: Nyom, Livermore, Yacob.
Man of the match: Jonny Evans.
Referee: Mike Dean 6.5.