Manchester United have been given a “poisoned gift” of a fixture schedule when the Europa League resumes, yet Jose Mourinho will not allow any let-up when Fenerbahce arrive in between clashes with Liverpool and Chelsea.
A fortnight on from losing their Group A opener at Feyenoord, the United manager highlighted the importance of securing victory against relatively unknown Zorya Luhansk at Old Trafford.
The Ukrainians made life tough but Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s close-range header secured a 1-0 win, kick-starting a campaign that continues in October at home to Fenerbahce.
The Turkish giants arrive three days after United travel to rivals Liverpool for a fascinating Monday night Premier League clash, with the Europa League clash bookended by Mourinho’s first return to Chelsea on the Sunday.
“Well, we could play Liverpool on the Saturday, we could play Liverpool on the Sunday,” the United manager said. “We play Liverpool on the Monday.
“So maybe we don’t have the best conditions, especially because we play against two top Premier League games that don’t play in European competitions.
“We had this kind of poisoned gift of playing on the Monday. That creates a very difficult situation, but we want to try and qualify for the next round. We want to try.
“(There is a) long time to go, almost a month, but we want to try, so we will play against Fenerbahce with a team with possibilities to beat Fenerbahce.”
Asked if he tried to get the Liverpool games moved back from Monday or whether that was impossible, he said: “I think it is impossible.
“The poisoned gift is already there, so what can you do? We just have to play Monday, and then Thursday, and then Stamford Bridge on the Sunday.
“But before that we have Stoke (this Sunday), so let us concentrate on Stoke because it is another poisoned gift because Stoke is not what the table says.
“The manager is very good, the players are good, the team is good, so when I look to the table, that’s not Stoke’s position.
“I play against a good Stoke and not the Stoke in that position in the table.”
United will be looking for a fourth straight win in all competitions when Mark Hughes’ side arrive at Old Trafford on Sunday lunchtime.
Mourinho accepts they did not play “amazingly well” against Zorya but got the job done, saying he was impressed with Wayne Rooney’s impact after coming off the bench for a second successive match.
“He was laughing and saying he made a great assist,” the United boss said, regarding his strike into the ground which led to Ibrahimovic’s winner.
“But, really, he gave me what the team needs at that time, which is a presence, a second presence in the box.
“He is more a striker than Juan (Mata) and Juan went more to the right side.
“(Anthony) Martial brought, after the goal, freshness and speed, also to try to kill the game, which we didn’t but he was a positive presence, too.
“We started the game with a very good team and I had on the bench also players to give me solutions for everything.
“We have proof to win matches in the Europa League that we need to be good, we need to play seriously because they are good teams.”