Finally, for Jose Mourinho’s beleaguered Manchester United, the pressure is at least momentarily off. His side play Valencia at Mestalla knowing that their place in the Champions League knockout stages is already assured.

Instead, tonight offers the opportunity for rest and reunions.

With injuries beginning to take their toll on his curiously thin squad, and a bruising trip to Anfield pencilled in on Sunday, Mourinho is guaranteed to rotate. David de Gea will likely drop to the bench, while Mourinho has indicated both Diogo Dalot and Matteo Darmian will be granted a hard-earned rest before United’s festive calendar takes a turn for the worse.

And then there are the reunions. Having missed the last two matches stewing on the sidelines following a reported quarrel with Mourinho, Paul Pogba is set to regain his place in Manchester United’s midfield, likely alongside youngsters Andreas Pereira and Scott McTominay. Neither has started in the Champions League so far this season.

For Juan Mata it is going to be an unforgettable night as he returns to the club he spent four seasons with before joining Chelsea.

“I think tomorrow will be really special for me. When I played for Chelsea I came back and it was a night I will never forget.

“The fans will help to create an incredible atmosphere for me, and I am so grateful to this team because it was a really key period for me. I am really happy in Manchester, I love the Premier League, but I don’t know what could happen.”

Long-term absentee Eric Bailly is due an emotional reunion of his own. The centre-back returned to training this week after overcoming a knock and is hoping for just his second appearance since Newcastle visited in October, when he was unceremoniously hauled off by a disgusted Mourinho after just 19 minutes.

Unusually, Bailly has been receiving words of encouragement not from his own manager – but the opposition’s. Bailly previously worked with Valencia manager Marcelino at Villarreal, the club he left in 2016 to join United in a £30m move.

Jose Mourinho, Manager of Manchester United
Jose Mourinho, Manager of Manchester United
Life has been up and down ever since. But Marcelino is convinced his former favourite can make a success of himself at Old Trafford.

“I was so lucky to have Eric as a footballer, as a player,” he said. “He’s an extraordinary player and an extraordinary person.

“I’m so sorry for his injuries, because I know his performances are conditioned by this. I know he is having a hard time and suffering when trying to have a stable rhythm in the team.

“I wish nothing but the best for him and I feel his youth will help him through these hard times and he will be very important for United.

“I think he’s playing really well for United when he plays, but because of his injuries he’s not getting the luck he deserves.”

If Marcelino was in a charitable mood at his pre-match press conference, he cannot afford to be this evening. Pressure is already beginning to mount after a sluggish start to the new season, with his side languishing in 15th in La Liga and already unable to qualify for the next stage of the Champions League.

And, as if things couldn’t get any worse, club owner Peter Lim is due to be in attendance at Mestalla later.

“I know how the club thinks about me and the feelings they have for me, so I’m not doubtful in this aspect,” Marcelino added.

“I feel absolutely sure about my position in the club and also I think that coaches should always have their priorities clear, and my experiences as a coach tell me my priorities should be trying to improve our results and I am convinced this will happen, that we will get better.”

Source: The Independent