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United's nervous wait over Lukaku fitness update with Liverpool looming

On Saturday afternoon, Roberto Martinez will submit his team sheet for Belgium's World Cup qualifier against Bosnia.

Manchester United fans have not been so interested in a piece of paper since the David De Gea fax went missing.

Belgium have got World Cup qualifiers against Bosnia on Saturday and Cyprus on Tuesday. United play Liverpool next weekend. And Romelu Lukaku has got an ankle injury.

Given that they have already qualified for next summer's tournament in Russia, Belgium's games are, in reality, meaningless. United's trip to Anfield is not. It is one of the those classic club vs. country rows. Turned up to 10.

Lukaku picked the problem in a training session at Carrington on Friday. Sources have told ESPN FC he needed pain-killing injections before he was passed fit to face Crystal Palace 24 hours later. At one point, Anthony Martial was put on alert that he would probably start instead.

After playing and scoring against Palace, Lukaku joined up with the Belgian national team on Monday. He missed training that evening, instead visiting hospital to have a scan. The results showed no significant damage, but the 24-year-old has not been able to train with the rest of his teammates.

He is rated as having a "small chance" of being ready to face Bosnia in Sarajevo on Saturday, but Martinez is prepared to wait before making a decision.

"Romelu has worked separately," he said on Wednesday.

"We will make a decision about him on Friday, but I think it will be difficult, even though we continue to hope.

"We will wait for as long as possible to make a decision, and we also keep in touch with Manchester United. They can be sure we will not push him too far."

For Mourinho, that will come as a comfort. The last thing he wants is for his star striker to aggravate an existing problem in a match that has little significance. Especially with Liverpool to come at the weekend.

The United manager admitted ahead of Crystal Palace's visit to Old Trafford that he will not be able to give Lukaku a rest until Zlatan Ibrahimovic returns.

Pressed about whether he might lobby for Lukaku to be left out of the Belgium squad, he insisted he would not.

"It's Roberto's responsibility," said Mourinho. "I cannot, professionally speaking, say do this or do that. It's Roberto's responsibility."

The matter is complicated by Lukaku himself. Injury or not, he is keen to play against Bosnia and Cyprus. A striker who has started the season with 15 goals in 12 appearances for club and country does not want to miss a game.

Romelu Lukaku is at the centre of a club vs. country battle over his fitness.

On top of that, he is only seven away from reaching 31 international goals and surpassing Bernard Voorhoof and Paul Van Himst as Belgium's record scorer.

It is not the first time Mourinho and Martinez have gone head-to-head. They clashed over Chelsea's public pursuit of John Stones in 2015 with Martinez, then Everton manager, accusing Mourinho of "putting pressure" on his young defender.

"You cannot come out and comment about another player of another club because the Premier League rules do not allow you to do it," he said.

"We're adult enough to understand why it happened; it can put a little bit more pressure. It's not accepted by the Premier League rules, but it is something that happens."

Martinez then riled Mourinho after Everton had beaten Chelsea 3-1 at Goodison Park in September 2015 by holding his postmatch news conference first.

"Roberto, next time tell me to go before you, because we have to travel," said Mourinho, in an exchange caught by journalists waiting in the tunnel.

"I don't control that, Jose," Martinez replied. "I don't control that."

Mourinho reportedly swore as he walked off.

Most recently, Mourinho suggested Martinez had picked Marouane Fellaini to play for Belgium against Greece knowing he was struggling with injury.

"He had a problem in the national team, and then he played the match against Greece," said Mourinho.

"After the match he felt the problem."

Fellaini missed United's next match, the 2-2 draw with Stoke. Pointedly, Mourinho said afterward it had been "a game for Fellaini."

Incidentally, Fellaini, like Lukaku, has also been unable to train this week because of an ankle problem. With Paul Pogba sidelined, he is also likely to be needed at Anfield.

"Marouane is doing well," said Martinez on Wednesday.

"For the last 24 hours he feels very strong. He has been well trained separately from the group. He will be ready for Bosnia."

All Mourinho can do is hope both Lukaku and Fellaini are ready for Liverpool.

Rob is ESPN FC's Manchester United correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @RobDawsonESPN.


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