Jose Mourinho has revealed Manchester United omitted Antonio Valencia from their Champions League travelling squad to ‘protect’ his troublesome knee from the Young Boys pitch.
Valencia, 33, played in one of United’s three Champions League away group games last season as the club medical staff monitored his durability amid concerns of fatigue. Valencia started just two pre-season matches in July but has lined up in the last three Premier League fixtures.
Young Boys use a synthetic pitch which has drawn ire from previous English clubs who have played on the surface and Mourinho deemed it unsuitable for Valencia, who is expected to return for Saturday’s visit of Wolves.
Valencia trained at United’s Carrington training complex while his teammates travelled to Bern and Mourinho clarified the club captain’s absence.
“We decide not to play Antonio Valencia because his knee is not a knee that needs an artificial pitch at all,” Mourinho said at the Stade de Suisse. “So we brought Luke Shaw back to the squad and to the team. I told already Luke Shaw is playing tomorrow and apart from him we have Diogo, Ashley Young and Darmian ready to play.
“Valencia’s situation, we need to protect his clinical situation, apart from that we go with everything we have and have to try and win.”
United have won their last two matches away from home after losing successive league games to Brighton and Tottenham in which they sieved six goals. Mourinho remains adamant the 3-0 reverse by Spurs was a turning point, though.
“I think we are improving,” Mourinho opined. “We found a certain balance in the team, especially in the competitive attitude, we are creating lots of chances, changing our profile of play, the way we attack opponents, and we find a way to protect ourselves in some specific situations and we manage to get six points after two defeats which is important for us.
“I’m happy but you know I was happy after the Tottenham defeat, not with the result but with many things I saw and we felt that match was okay, was the beginning of our improvement. And we managed that in two difficult matches away and let’s see in our third match if we can win all of them.”
Mourinho delivered a sermon following United’s shambolic Champions League knockout defeat to Sevilla in March where he outlined their ‘football heritage’ since they last reach the final in 2011. Mourinho reminded his detractors United had only reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League once in the last seven years and he was in charge when they secured the Europa League last year.
The United manager said at the time ‘everything’ had to change if United were to progress to the last eight but Mourinho feels it is too ‘premature’ to discuss United’s chances of an auspicious run in the Champions League this season.
“What I told last season, I don’t think [it] has anything to do with this season,” Mourinho stressed. “A team to win the Champions League needs fantastic quality in every department of the team and needs to go over certain matches, doesn’t need to win all of them of course.
“But is a competition of certain matches and is premature to be speaking about our chances when we didn’t even play the first match. I would focus on tomorrow, first match, and after that on the group phase, one of the most difficult group phases, and we have two positions to qualify and our focus must be on that.
“By experience, when a team reaches the quarter-finals then even the teams that are not favourites, when you arrive in the quarter-finals you smell the distance is not very far and every team starts thinking about it but is too early.
“We had examples last season of candidates not going through to the group phase. When Atletico Madrid is knocked out in the group phase that is a very good example everyone is at risk.”