LONDON, United Kingdom, Dec 23 – Jose Mourinho believes Manchester United are being “punished” by the Premier League fixture list as they embark on the busy festive period, desperately trying to cling onto Manchester City’s coat-tails.
In a period that starts on December 22 and ends with the third round of the FA Cup on the weekend of January 6, all top-flight clubs will play five fixtures.
But the demands of the live television schedules means that clubs can have vastly different recuperation times between games in that holiday spell.
Arsenal, for example, started their run of games by playing Liverpool on Friday but then do not play again until making the short journey to Crystal Palace on Thursday 28 — a recovery period of five full days.
In contrast, second-placed United — 11 points behind Manchester City — play Leicester in a late kick-off on Saturday and are in action again, at home to Burnley, on December 26, offering Mourinho’s team a rest of only two days.
Mourinho’s staff have made a detailed study of the respective itineraries of all Premier League clubs and, while the United manager does not claim his to be the only team adversely affected, he does believe they are being punished.
“We are not the only ones,” said Mourinho. “There are other teams in the same situation as we are and Leicester is one of them in the same situation as we are.
“We did the simple objective study on that and there is a big gap, a really big gap between some clubs and other clubs.
“There are clearly the ones that are really privileged and there are clearly another group of the ones that are really punished by the decisions of the calendar.
“And there are another group in the middle of it where I would like to be. I know I would never be in the top group but in the middle group we would like to be.”
When pressed further on whether he believed he and United were deliberately being singled out, Mourinho was evasive.
– Fixture pile-up –
The upcoming fixture congestion will place greater stress than ever on Mourinho’s first team squad and that of all his rivals.
That could mean more playing time for veteran Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who started his first game of the season in the midweek League Cup defeat at Bristol City after recovering from a career-threatening knee injury.
Ibrahimovic has yet to play a full 90 minutes since his injury in April although Mourinho clearly expects him to play a significant role, either as an orthodox forward or in a number 10 role.
“Yes. He is an option,” said the United boss. “He played one hour, a bit more. Could be he is ready to start the match. Ninety minutes is probably too much, it depends on the match, but I think, yes, I think he is ready to start.”
Mourinho learned this week that the FA is to take no action against his club, or rivals Manchester City, for an altercation that took place in the Old Trafford tunnel following the recent derby game.
A member of Mourinho’s staff was reportedly struck by milk contained in a plastic bottle. When asked whether he was pleased with the FA’s decision, he said: “You have to ask the people who hit with a bottle.”