Coach Jose Mourinho slammed the state of the Rostov pitch on Wednesday ahead of Manchester United’s Europa League tie in Russia, questioning whether the game should go ahead.
“It’s still hard for me to believe that we are going to play,” Mourinho said at a press conference in Rostov ahead of Thursday’s last 16, first leg.
“I know that we have to, but it is hard for me to believe we are going to play on that field — if you can call it a field.”
Mourinho compared the pitted and damaged Olimp-2 stadium pitch in Rostov to the surface at Beijing’s Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium where Manchester United and City refused to play a pre-season friendly last year.
“I have now a lot to think (about) because I was expecting something more playable.
“On a very similar pitch in the summer in China, me and Manchester City decided not to play, but it looks like we have to play.”
He said he spoke of the risks of playing on the surface to a UEFA official and was rebuffed.
“I didn’t have any contact with anyone until now. I just had a quick contact with a gentleman from UEFA when I was looking at the pitch,” he said.
“When I told him about my concerns the gentleman just told me the players are insured -– if something happens no problem.”
– Dangerous –
Rostov coach Ivan Daniliants admitted the Rostov surface was a far cry from Premier League standards.
“On TV we see the quality of the pitches at places like Wembley and Manchester…”
“We would love to play on pitches like our opponents play on, but we have to make do with what we have got.”
He said he didn’t expect the bumpy surface to throw up serious problems and said his side had played on worse. He said pitch quality was inferior for their last home Europa League tie against Sparta Prague on February 16 which they won 4-0.
For Mourinho, concern about the uneven pitch and his players’ safety posed a team selection headache.
“I don’t know which team to play, really,” he said, against a side he described as “dangerous”, and who he knows beat both Ajax and Bayern Munich in the Champions League this season.
Wayne Rooney and left-back Luke Shaw were left at home along with Bastian Schweinsteiger and United are without Eric Bailly, who was sent off in their round of 32 1-0 win at Saint-Etienne.
But Armenian forward Henrikh Mkhitaryan returns to the 20-man squad after recovering from an injury incurred just after scoring the winner at Saint-Etienne.
United’s target-man Zlatan Ibrahimovic is available and will play, Mourinho confirmed, despite his three-match domestic suspension which does not apply to the Europa League.
Mourinho is pondering how to counter a strong Rostov attack in which he singled out Iranian striker Sardar Azmoun as a particular threat.
“I don’t even know if he plays. I think Rostov have four good attack players, especially three of them that are very dangerous so I don’t know who is going to play,” he said.
“I know that they are dangerous, I know they defend with 10 players, they defend with everybody and then they are very dangerous in counter-attack.”