Manchester United’s injury woes in April and May led to the team focusing on Europa League over the Premier League, manager Jose Mourinho said. United host Spanish side Celta Vigo on Thursday for their Europa League semi-final second leg. Mourinho’s men hold a 1-0 advantage from the first leg in Spain.

Mourinho said it was impossible to play 17 matches across April and May with just 16 available players, which led to him prioritising the Europa League as a way to get into the Champions League next season. United currently sit sixth in the Premier League, four points behind fourth-placed Manchester City, with just three matches to go.

The winner of the Europa League and the top three teams from the Premier League will automatically qualify for the Champions League next season, while the fourth-placed side will have to play a qualifier.

“The situation is simple,” Mourinho told MUTV. “Seventeen matches in seven weeks with 16 players is impossible. It’s not a gamble, it was a simple decision, based on common sense. In April and May, 17 matches with 16 players, is completely impossible.”

He added, “So, since the moment we lost players, and we lost initially four of them in one week when we lost [Chris] Smalling and [Phil] Jones from the national team and we lost Zlatan [Ibrahimovic] and [Marcos] Rojo against Anderlecht in that moment and, after that, we lost boys that could be good alternatives – Ashley Young, Luke Shaw, Tim Fosu-Mensah. So, when we lost these players in a period of 17 matches in seven weeks, it was an impossible job. It was not a gamble, just a consequence of our situation.”

No fresh injury concerns

There was some good news for Manchester United ahead of their second leg semi-final against Celta, with Mourinho saying there are no new fresh injury concerns. Apart from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marcos Rojo, Luke Shaw, Ashley Young and Tim Fosu-Mensah, everyone else is available.

“Since the last injuries, we know that nobody will recover on time, even to play the last match of the season, so the ones out will be out for the season,” Mourinho said. “But people are ready, fresh, with a big desire to play the game.”

He added, “I am proud because we have important injuries that have reduced the possibility of rotation, of turnover, of resting players, so the players are the ones that are present all the time since we have this problem. So, yes, I’m proud, but one more match to be in a European final – we must give everything we have.”

On United’s chances of making it to the Europa League final, Mourinho said, “We are in this situation now and we have to fight for it, so let’s see if [on Thursday] we can do it and if we can go to the final. But it doesn’t matter what, no regrets. We are giving everything we can, the players, myself, everyone that works around here. We are giving everything so, when you give everything, no problem.”

United striker Wayne Rooney said the club “belongs in the Champions League”, adding that the team is aiming to win the Europa League. “Realistically, it’s going to be difficult to do it through the [Premier] league,” Rooney said, as reported by BBC. “We have to concentrate on winning the [Europa League] trophy.”

Rooney’s future at Old Trafford continues to be under speculation, with reports of interest from China and the United States popping up every now and then. However, the 31-year-old club captain reiterated he would like to remain at Old Trafford next season. “Would I like to stay? I’ve been at this club 13 years,” he said. “Of course, I want to play football.”