The Spaniard underwent groin surgery over the March international break that was set to leave him out for a month, with some reports claiming he wouldn’t return in time to aid Manchester United’s pursuit of Champions League football this season.
Smalling and Jones both picked up what Mourinho described as ‘long-term’ injuries during the ten day spell with the England side last month.
But the 54-year-old has confirmed that the pair could return in time for the closing stages of the season, noting that they would be ready by ”mid-May”; Mata’s season, however, is over after it was revealed he would only return by “late-May”.
This is a cruel – and indeed unexpected – end to what has been a strong season for the 28-year-old. Many imagined that, upon Mourinho’s arrival, he would be sent in the opposite direction, but he delighted supporters with a series of subtly devastating displays, claiming ten goals. His presence will, no doubt, be hugely missed as United look to address their malaise in front of goal over the next few weeks.
One silver lining, I guess, is that Smalling and Jones will play at least some part in what could be a very busy May period for United if they do indeed get past Anderlecht. But Mourinho will still have to worry about the freshness of Eric Bailly and Marcos Rojo – his only established centre-back options – up until that point.