Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcos Rojo both suffered injuries in Thursday night’s Europa League victory against Anderlecht.
Marcus Rashford scored in extra-time to send Manchester United through to the semi-finals, but manager Jose Mourinho was downbeat about players’ fitness.
Here, Duncan Castles, writing for our sister paper the Daily Record, outlines the situation facing Man United and their injured stars.
Manchester United will be without both Marcos Rojo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic for the rest of the season after both players ruptured cruciate ligaments in Thursday’s Europa League quarter-final defeat of Anderlecht.
Rojo, who has established himself as a first-choice defender in Jose Mourinho’s side, was hopeful that he’d escaped serious injury after overloading the tendons of his left knee in a first-half tackle. However, a series of medical examinations on Friday diagnosed a torn anterior cruciate ligament
The Argentina international is scheduled to undergo reconstructive surgery. According to sources close to the player, he is not expected to play again until September.
Ibrahimovic’s injury – caused by hyperextension of the right knee as the forward landed following an aerial challenge – is understood to be worse than Rojo. United’s leading goalscorer has ruptured both anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments with an expected recovery period of nine to 12 months.
It is extremely unusual for a professional football club to lose two players to cruciate ligament ruptures in the same match. Mourinho’s staff believe the injuries are linked to an extremely dense fixture schedule – United have played significantly more matches than any other Premier League club and were two-thirds of the way through a run of nine fixtures this month alone.
While Mourinho has been working on the recruitment of a new starting central defender in the summer transfer market, Rojo remained an important part of his plans for next season. Those will now have to be redrawn with the 27-year-old’s rehabilitation period in mind.
Rojo and Eric Bailly have started every one of those six matches after United’s two other first-team central defenders, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, were injured on international duty last month. With United seeking to secure Champions League qualification through either a top-four Premier League finish or Europa League victory, Mourinho is now left with just one specialist centre back available to him.
“We have Daley Blind that has experience in the position,” said Mourinho following the 2-1 extra-time defeat of Anderlecht. “And I think it is time for Jones and Smalling to be brave, to risk, 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 you have to try to do everything to accelerate the process. They have injuries and even with a crazy mentality will not play Sunday. There are no miracles. But with a special spirit you can [do it] sooner than expected. So instead of coming mid-May you can come beginning of May. This kind of acceleration of the process.”
A natural midfielder, Blind’s effectiveness at centre back is limited by his height and relative lack of pace. Other options for Mourinho include deploying Marouane Fellaini, Michael Carrick, Antonio Valencia or Matteo Darmian in central defence.
While there have been calls to promote Axel Tuanzebe to the first team, the 19-year-old has yet to play even a minute of Premier League football and is considered a high-risk option.
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