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Thursday 23 March 2017

Mourinho blasts UEFA over call to play on frozen pitches

Henrikh Mkhitaryan
Henrikh Mkhitaryan

Jose Mourinho does not believe UEFA should make teams play on frozen pitches like the one in Ukraine where Manchester United's Europa League fate will be sealed.

Zorya Luhansk are the opponents for United's Group A finale this evening, when a point will secure progress to the last 32.

The Ukrainian side are already out of the competition but restricted United to a 1-0 win at Old Trafford, playing on the kind of surface they can only dream of.

The Chornomorets Stadium pitch is frozen in places and patchy in others.

United defender Daley Blind said it was "like a rock" when going out to train and team-mate Paul Pogba laughed.

The players' studs clacked on the surface that led Mourinho to question why European governing body UEFA allows final group matches to be played in countries where winters hit so hard. "The pitch is very hard, the pitch is very icy," the United boss said.

"Called off the game? I think UEFA know the conditions of the pitch and everybody knows that in mid-December the conditions in Ukraine and Eastern Europe are more difficult.

"So if UEFA was worried about it, they should change the fixtures and not allow the last fixtures to be played in mid-December.

"If the fifth fixture is the last fixture here, it would be the end of November and not mid-December, so I think that's the problem.

"I think the stadium is beautiful, it's new, it's well taken care of.

"The pitch is the same. They are trying, they are putting some warmth on the top of it, but the pitch is very difficult and people cannot make miracles. Let's hope everything goes well."

A routine pitch inspection is planned for 10am local time (8am Irish time) this morning.

It is not the first time United have had problems with a pitch since Mourinho's arrival. In July, the Bird's Nest quagmire cost them a money-spinning pre-season friendly against Manchester City in Beijing.

Much more is on stake in Ukraine given progress is on the line in the Europa League - a competition that sees the winner through to the Champions League.

United are already nine points off the top four in the Premier League, meaning their prospects of reaching the Champions League that way already look slim, but Mourinho says that has not heightened the importance of this competition.

"No, we go in the same direction," the Portuguese manager said. "We assumed from the beginning that it was an important competition for us - difficult because we play Thursdays and then we play Sundays.

"But we want to try to win it and while we are in the competition we try to win it." Henrikh Mkhitaryan knows better than most what to expect in Odessa having enjoyed a successful stint in Ukraine at Shakhtar Donetsk.

"It's always good to be here in Ukraine," Mkhitaryan said before training in minus seven Celsius. "I have very memories of my time here. I had four amazing years playing in the Ukraine and my last game I played in Odessa was a very good one for me because I scored my first hat-trick for Shakhtar, so I can say I am pleased to be here again."

Zorya v Manchester Utd (live Eir Sport 2/BT Sport 3, KO 6.0)

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