Manchester - Jose Mourinho's depleted Manchester United side
face Swansea at Old Trafford on Sunday with the manager praising the spirit
shown by his exhausted squad.
Louis van Gaal, Mourinho's predecessor as United manager, is
not remembered with any fondness by the majority of the club's supporters.
But Mourinho believes the Dutchman succeeded in pulling
together a squad of strong characters, although their resilience is now being
tested as United maintain their bid for a top-four finish in the Premier League
and success in the Europa League.
"The group was a nice group, honestly," said
Mourinho, who served as a novice coach under then Barcelona manager Van Gaal at
the Spanish giants in the late 1990s.
"Good people, good boys, committed people.
"I think Mr Van Gaal left a good group of boys with
very good relations between them and I got that in my hands."
The Portuguese added: "I think they missed happiness,
they missed trust, they missed belief. They missed this extra bit that brings
resilience, brings you fight. They have it.
"So next July 9, when we meet again for next season, it's a stronger group. So the new players when they arrive will find a group more ready to go for big things," the former Chelsea manager explained.
"But the reality is that we are fighting to win the
Europa League and we are fighting to try to finish fourth, so let's go."
The arduous season, which has also seen United reach the
quarter-finals of the FA Cup and win the League Cup, has taken its toll on the
Central defenders Phil Jones and Chris Smalling remain out
injured for the Swansea game, with Marcos Rojo having suffered a season-ending
knee ligament injury.
That led Mourinho to joke he might name himself in the starting side, along with youngster Axel Tuanzebe whose entire first-team experience amounts to 22 minutes as a substitute against Wigan in the FA Cup.
United may have Juan Mata, sidelined since the middle of
March, available for Swansea but France international Paul Pogba remains out
with a leg muscle injury and is being saved for Thursday's Europa League
semi-final with Celta Vigo.
Mourinho will also be without Belgium international Marouane
Fellaini, who starts a three-match suspension, after his red card for
head-butting Sergio Aguero in the midweek goalless derby draw away to
Amazingly, given their schedule, the Etihad stalemate
extended United's unbeaten league run to 24 games - equalling their best such
sequence in a single top-flight season.
For all the fatigue within the squad, United defender Matteo
Darmian has insisted he and his team-mates will not use tiredness as an excuse
for any poor results between now and the end of the campaign.
"Yes, we haven't got too much time for recovery and to
prepare for the game but, from now until the end of the season, we play every
few days, so we have to be ready," he said. "It's our objective to
finish in the top four.
"We have to win and put pressure on Manchester City and
Liverpool," he added.
Swansea will kick off in the relegation places and, with
Burnley and Hull playing 24 hours earlier, could be as many as five points from
safety by the time they take the field.
Paul Clement, the Swansea coach, sympathised with Mourinho's
injury problems but stressed the Welsh club would be the underdogs at Old
"United have been playing on Thursday and Sunday for
many weeks now and they have an injury list which I'm sure the manager is not
happy with," he said.
"But we know it will not be easy. You always hope when
you play a big team at their stadium that they have a slightly off-day and you
have a chance."
Clement hopes that midfielder Jack Cork (ankle) and defender
Martin Olsson (hamstring) recover from their respective injury problems in time
for Sunday's match.
But Wayne Routledge has been ruled out after the winger had a hernia operation this week.