Man United boss Jose Mourinho slams UEFA over Zorya fixture in December
ODESSA, Ukraine -- Jose Mourinho has criticised UEFA for allowing Zorya Luhansk to stage their Europa League fixture against Manchester United in Ukraine in December, claiming that the pitch in Odessa is "bad" and "icy."
United will face Zorya in the Chornomorets Stadium on Thursday with overnight temperatures predicted to drop as low as -7°C on Wednesday evening.
The Ukrainian outfit have covered the pitch with heaters in an effort to ensure that the playing surface does not freeze in the sub-zero temperatures and there will be an inspection at 10 a.m. local time on Thursday.
United must secure at least a point in order to qualify for the knockout stages but Mourinho claims UEFA should not allow Ukrainian clubs to stage final group fixtures at home due to the wintry conditions.
Pitch already beginning to freeze in Odessa. pic.twitter.com/KdmzmifjzN- Mark Ogden (@MarkOgden_) December 7, 2016
"The pitch is very hard, it is icy," Mourinho told a news conference. "I think UEFA knows the conditions of the pitch. Everybody knows that in mid-December, the conditions in Ukraine and Eastern Europe are more difficult.
"If they are concerned, they should not allow the last fixture to be played here in December. The fifth fixture is in late November and they should not play here in December.
"Our flight here was good, the hotel is good, the stadium is good, but the pitch is bad. It is very cold and I know it is very difficult to have a better pitch. The people are trying to make it better and put heat on it, but they cannot do miracles, so let us hope that all goes well."
United go into the game having lost their last five away games in European competition. Since Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement at the end of the 2012-13 season, United have won just two of their 13 European away fixtures -- drawing three and losing eight of the remaining 11.
And although United can qualify with a defeat in Odessa if Feyenoord fail to defeat Fenerbahce in Rotterdam, Mourinho admits that his team must end their poor run in Europe to have any hope of winning the Europa League.
"I can only speak about my games," Mourinho said. "We lost to Feyenoord in a game we should have won -- the team played well, always under control, pushing to win and we lost.
"Fenerbahce is another difficult place to go, we conceded a goal in the first minute and that made it more difficult. But I agree that, to qualify, you cannot lose three matches, so that is why we must not lose tomorrow."
With United falling off the pace in the Premier League, the Europa League could yet offer the best hope of Champions League qualification, with the winners earning a place in next season's competition.
Mourinho insists, however, that they are not at the stage yet of having to write off their hopes of a top four finish in the Premier League.
"There is no more importance to the Europa League," he said. "We go in the same direction. We assume from the beginning that it is an important competition for us, but it's difficult because we play Thursdays and Sundays.
"It is a difficult competition, but we want to try to win it. While we are in the competition, we try to win, Tomorrow we want to win and go to the knockout stages and go as far as possible, step-by-step. We want to qualify from a very difficult group."
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_