Jose Mourinho has canvassed the idea of fielding an U23s side against Crystal Palace on the final day of the Premier League season if Manchester United reach the Europa League final.
The Portuguese finds himself inundated by a mammoth injury crisis, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marcos Rojo, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Luke Shaw and Eric Bailly all on the treatment table.
Man United’s clash with Sam Allardyce’s men takes place on May 21 – just three days before the Europa League final in Stockholm.
And Mourinho, speaking after his side’s 1-1 draw with Swansea, noted that – provided Palace, now most likely safe from relegation, have nothing to play for – he could field a youthful side on the last day of the season.
“You are punished for doing well and if we beat Celta we have the final on the Wednesday (May 24) and we play against Crystal Palace on the Sunday (May 21),” he said.
“Before that we play Southampton two days before and, with all respect, we would be playing in disaster consequences. Maybe I can bring (academy coach) Nicky Butt and his team to play against Crystal Palace and hopefully Palace doesn’t need a game to stay in the division because it would be very, very bad if they needed the points for us to play with the under-23s. It’s difficult.”
For a man supposedly reluctant to let the unreliability of youth infect his managerial system, this is a big gesture of faith from Mourinho. But this is a move undoubtedly grounded in the 54-year-old’s ruthless pragmatism. He will want to keep his players as fresh as possible ahead of the prospective clash with either Lyon or Ajax in Sweden and could, in turn, provide some youngsters with an important stepping stone in their pursuit of first team football next season.