Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has confirmed that Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof will be a part of his playing XI when they host Basel at Old Trafford on Tuesday night in the Champions League.
The Portuguese, speaking in his press conference (Manutd.com) following the Stoke City game, confirmed that the England international will pair with the Swedish new boy at the back.
The change is more or less expected because his regular pair, Eric Bailly and Phil Jones, is suspended for different reasons. Bailly received a red card in the Europa League and was suspended for three matches by the UEFA.
Jones, on the other hand, has been banned for two European matches for verbally abusing an anti-doping official. With the pair out of contention, Mourinho has no option but to pick his second-choice duo.
“He’s playing [Jones] well for us. He’s probably tired with two consecutive matches with the national team but he cannot play on Tuesday so it’s good that on Tuesday he gets his rest and it’s an opportunity for Smalling and Lindelof to play the Champions League match.”
This is not the first time this season that Smalling and Lindelof will be paired together at the back. They started in the 2-1 European Super Cup loss to Real Madrid in August. It was expected that Lindelof and Smalling will fight for the second spot in the heart of defence, with Bailley being irremovable from the set-up.
However, the upsurge in the form of Jones meant that Lindelof is yet to make a competitive bow for the Red Devils. Smalling too would hope to utilise the game time to get back into contention for the upcoming Premier League matches. The least they can hope for is to provide a better performance than the one against Real in the European Super Cup.
Basel is not going to be an easy opponent for United and Mourinho will hope that his side can pick up full points from the encounter. Portuguese giants Benfica remain the strongest opponent for United in the group while the presence of CSKA Moscow is tricky too.
This means that Mourinho will push his side for a victory and it would be essential for his backline to stand firm. He would want the boys to replicate the Premier League form, that has seen them top the standings after four unbeaten games. Defence, in particular, has been outstanding, conceding just two goals.
So, can Lindelof and Smalling recreate the same magic? Let’s hope so!