Jose Mourinho offered a tongue-in-cheek solution to Manchester United’s personnel problems: picking himself against Swansea.
The Red Devils were without a handful of first-teamers for Thursday’s 0-0 draw at Manchester City and are stretched even thinner for Sunday’s match after Maroune Fellaini was sent off for a senseless headbutt on Sergio Aguero and Tim Fosu-Mensah injured his calf after coming off the bench.
Paul Pogba, Juan Mata and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are all out but the problem is even more acute at the back, with Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo all sidelined.
That leaves 19-year-old Axel Tuanzebe next in line should Eric Bailly or Daley Blind need a rest, and Mourinho joked about an even more drastic decision.
“In this moment it’s the only option we have: Axel, Eric and Daley. I have to speak with them and see how they are and how they feel. I’m also training hard in the gym so I can be an option also,” he said.
“Mourinho and Tuanzebe against Swansea.”
The fixture list is not helping Mourinho manage his threadbare squad, with a Europa League semi-final against Celta Vigo on Thursday.
And another possible beneficiary of the problems is Wayne Rooney, who has struggled for game time even in the current circumstances.
The Manchester derby was once his favourite stage but he was restricted to a brief jog up the touchline at the Etihad Stadium, where he was an unused substitute.
Fellaini’s suspension could see a temporary return to the midfield role Rooney played for United and England last season.
“Yeah, it’s an option,” said Mourinho. “We don’t have (other options).
“We have (Ander) Herrera and (Michael) Carrick and nothing else. We are in trouble, but we fight. That’s for sure.”
The dilemmas facing United’s boss beg questions over his willingness to move Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin on earlier in the campaign.
Mourinho does not consider it bad planning, though, instead attributing it to ill fortune and Schneiderlin’s restlessness when Everton came calling.
“We didn’t tell Morgan ‘we want to sell you’. Morgan asked us, ‘Please sell me. I want to go, I want to play every game’,” he said.
“To have lots of players not playing is something the players don’t want. So sometimes there’s always this dilemma of (wanting to) keep a bigger squad, but the players don’t want to stay. Even sometimes young players, when they are not playing, they ask to leave.”