Jose Mourinho says he has ample options in his Manchester United squad to cope without injured midfielder Paul Pogba as Wayne Rooney prepares to return to Old Trafford.
Pogba is widely expected to be out of action for between a month and six weeks after damaging his hamstring just 18 minutes into Tuesday’s 3-0 Champions League victory over Basel.
That would force him to miss France’s World Cup qualifiers against Bulgaria and Belarus in early October, which they need to win to guarantee a place at the finals in Russia.
But Mourinho’s refusal to put a timescale on the midfielder’s absence may yet give national team coach Didier Deschamps reason for hope.
Marouane Fellaini, who replaced Pogba as a substitute against Basel, is likely to step into the starting line-up for Sunday’s Premier League home match against Everton, with Ander Herrera and Michael Carrick also in contention.
Mourinho would not elaborate on suggestions that Pogba had aggravated a long-term hamstring problem, or claims that the midfielder has been working with a personal trainer against club advice.
The United manager would only say he expects Pogba, the club’s £89 million ($121 million, 101 million euros) record signing, to be out for “a few matches”.
“I just know that it’s a muscular injury and he’s out for the weekend match,” said Mourinho. “That’s the only one I’m thinking about. I don’t think further than that. So for me, it’s simple and objective that he’s not playing this weekend.
“I don’t know if it’s the same one. I just know it’s a hamstring.”
Pogba was out for three weeks in March with a hamstring issue and it is understood he was given instructions by United’s medical staff on how to strengthen the muscle to ward off further problems.
But the midfielder is believed to have been getting treatment from a personal trainer, leading to fears that it might have made him more vulnerable to injury.
Pogba is set to miss United’s league games against Everton, Southampton and Crystal Palace, plus next Wednesday’s third-round League Cup tie against Burton and the Champions League trip to CSKA Moscow on September 27.
He also faces a fight to be back in time for his side’s Premier League trip to Liverpool on October 14 – but Mourinho is certain that United will manage.
The manager said: “We have players waiting for an opportunity because we started the season really well and we had one match per week so there was no need to rest players and no need for changes.
“Honestly, we miss Pogba and we need him but we have good players. Herrera, Fellaini, Carrick, they are waiting for a real chance to start matches. And they are ready. This is also our way of things.
“We lost important players last season at crucial moments and we were not crying or getting excuse. That’s just football.”
Sunday’s match will see Wayne Rooney return to Old Trafford for the first time since leaving Manchester United for Everton in July.
Mourinho described the former England captain as a “legend” but urged United fans not to make him feel too comfortable.
“I think he will get the welcome that he deserves,” he said. “Sometimes in this country the word legend comes too easily, but that’s not the case here. He is a legend of this club.
“He is one of the most important players in the history of Manchester United. The stadium will show him the respect he deserves before and after the match, not during the match.”