ROTTERDAM: Jose Mourinho has admitted that Manchester United do not want to be in the Europa League and he fears the competition could damage the club's title prospects.
But the United manager vowed to take their participation seriously ahead of tonight's (Thursday's) opening Group A game against Feyenoord in Rotterdam and warned his squad they risk another humiliation like last season's defeat by FC Midtjylland if they are not mentally prepared.
As Feyenoord's former Liverpool forward Dirk Kuyt reignited old hostilities by claiming United's 2-1 derby defeat by Manchester City on Saturday had put them under "enormous pressure", Mourinho voiced concerns about how the Thursday-Sunday fixture conundrum could handicap his team in the Premier League this term. They face Watford at midday on Sunday.
And the Portuguese, who has left Wayne Rooney behind in the belief his captain needs a rest, is dismayed that the Premier League and television broadcasters have compounded United's Euro headache by handing them a nightmare schedule next month when they face Liverpool, Fenerbahce and Chelsea in the space of a week.
"It [the Europa League] is not a competition that Man United wants," Mourinho said. "It is not one I want or the players but it is a competition where we are and that is the reality.
"We have to respect the competition. We want to do well and for a club of our dimension it is not to be out of the competition in the group stage.
"It's more difficult, yes [to win the Premier League when you are playing in the Europa League]. It would be better if we had the privilege of playing on a Monday after a Thursday game to have one day [recovery] but we didn't get that privilege.
"In fact, the gift we have is to play Liverpool on the Monday before, not the Monday after. So [next month] we play Liverpool on the Monday, Fenerbahce on the -Thursday and Chelsea on the Sunday. So we know that we are not going to have any kind of support on that. We are not going to make a drama out of it."
United were beaten 2-1 by Midtjylland in Denmark in the first leg of the Europa League round of 32 under Louis van Gaal last February and Mourinho believes that game should serve as a lesson.
Teenage striker Marcus Rashford is expected to start up front tonight, with Mourinho preparing to make as many as nine changes, but the manager does not believe it is the moment to pick youngsters after the City setback.
"What happened last season in Midtjylland is something you don't forget as a fan, maybe you forget as a player, but not as a fan," he said. "You have to make sure we are not sleeping, that we are not losing -before the match starts because you don't find the right motivation and right attitude."
In addition to Rooney, Jesse -Lingard and Antonio Valencia have stayed in Manchester. Phil Jones is out for a month after suffering
a lateral knee ligament problem in his ongoing injury nightmare and Henrikh Mkhitaryan is also injured.
Luke Shaw, who has a tight hamstring, has been spared a potentially traumatic return to Holland a year to the day since breaking his leg against PSV Eindhoven.
Kuyt believes it is an opportune time to play United. "I think they are under enormous pressure, because everyone expects them to win the league," he said. "Everyone can see what it did to the team when they lost to City at the weekend."
Tonight's game will be played in front of a reduced capacity of 30,000 at the De Kuip stadium and nets have been erected around the pitch as Feyenoord bid to avert a repeat of the crowd trouble that marred their Europa League game against Roma last season.