Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho has told Phil Jones and Chris Smalling to “risk” returning to action sooner than they may have liked for the good of the team.
United’s Europa League quarter-final win over Anderlecht on Thursday evening came at a cost, with centre-back Marcos Rojo leaving the field on a stretcher before half-time, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic was also injured just before extra-time.
Ibrahimovic was able to hobble off and Rojo told reporters he was “okay” while limping heavily through the post-match mixed zone.
The Argentina international, so impressive this term, is another blow to a defence already without Jones and Smalling.
Mourinho last week said the England centre-backs were out until mid-May, but suggested after the Anderlecht win that they need to be “brave”.
“We have Daley Blind, who has experience in the position, and I think it is time for Jones and Smalling to be brave – to risk,” the United boss, who seemed to criticise Smalling’s pain threshold earlier in the season, said.
“Because for the team you have to do everything, that is the way I think.
“You cannot do miracles, so miracles I don’t expect, but they have to try to do everything to accelerate the process.
“They have injuries, and even with a crazy mentality, they cannot play Sunday (at Burnley in the Premier League).
“But with a special spirit, you can (come back) sooner than expected. So instead of mid-May, it could be the beginning of May, this kind of acceleration of the process.”
Mourinho also emphasised the trust he has in match-winner Rashford, whose turn and finish was impressive in such a high-pressure situation.
“It is hard for the kid to play every match, but I always trust the players with special mentalities,” the United boss said.
“That is why I kept Marcus on the team the whole time – for months he was not scoring a goal, but my trust in the boy is always based on his mentality.
“In spite of being a young kid, other guys can look at him. We have great examples of fighters, of people with the right mentality.”
United find out their semi-final opponents in Friday’s draw, with Ajax, Celta Vigo or Lyon lying in wait.
“I’m relieved,” Mourinho added. “I’m happy. It was a difficult game, difficult opponent.
“I am tired. I imagine the players are more tired than me. But we are in the draw and we still have the dream to win the competition.”