Chris Smalling has explained why Jose Mourinho has been stressed at Manchester United in recent weeks, pointing towards the potentially damaging influence of the Premier League on his side’s prospects of winning the Europa League final.
Mourinho has recently stressed that, following an injury crisis that has left him with just 15 senior players, he has had no choice but to give up on the Premier League ahead of the meeting with Ajax in Stockholm on May 24.
Defeats to Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur saw the Portuguese, on both occasions, make eight changes from the side that featured against Celta Vigo; Man United still must contend with a trip to Southampton and a home game with Crystal Palace.
And Smalling, reflecting on preparations for the final, has noted that finding the right balance has been a stressful process for Mourinho.
“I think momentum is crucial,” he said. “The beauty of having these two games, with the preparation we’ve got, means we can go into the final firing on all cylinders and with everyone completely up to speed. We’re ready for everything.
“I think everyone knows about the big carrot that comes with our final game, the Europa League final, but it’s all about that preparation now and making sure that in training and in each game, we’re as prepared as we can be.
“I don’t think it’s a case of taking it easy in the Premier League. You can’t shy away from the final but, in the same respect, in training and during games, we’ll want to make an impression on the manager. So, no-one can hold anything back, we want to make the most of every day.
“I think the manager stressed it, and the players know deep down that each game is having an influence on him. Be it on the training ground or in each game, certain situations, it’s all a test.”
I can’t imagine Smalling is doing much to help with Mourinho’s stress at the moment. He will, following Eric Bailly‘s red card against Celta, probably start the Europa League final alongside Daley Blind, and his recent showing at White Hart Lane was hardly the best confidence booster for supporters.
Nevertheless, as Mourinho has noted before, this is no time for crying and lamenting; the Portuguese has a hefty – and indeed crucial – task on his hands in organising a fully fit, functional starting XI against Ajax, but this is very much the sort of gritty challenge that has, over the years, brought the best out of the 54-year-old.