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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Jose Mourinho backs Victor Lindelof to shine for Manchester United against Basel: 'I think it's easier for Victor to play in the Champions League'

Swedish centre-back has yet to make a competitive start in the Premier League but is thrust into action due to suspensions for Bailly and Jones

Victor Lindelof's only appearance for Manchester United this season came in the European Super Cup defeat to Real Madrid. Dan Mullan / Getty Images
Victor Lindelof's only appearance for Manchester United this season came in the European Super Cup defeat to Real Madrid. Dan Mullan / Getty Images

Jose Mourinho has declared that Victor Lindelof can make his first-choice centre-backs Eric Bailly and Phil Jones afraid as he prepares to try and kick-start his Manchester United career.

The Swedish defender was a £31.5 million (Dh153m) signing from Benfica but is yet to play a minute in the Premier League and has not even been on the bench for three of United’s four fixtures.

But he will face Basel in the Uefa Champions League on Tuesday as both Bailly and Jones complete European suspensions for a red card against Celta Vigo and verbally abusing a doping official after the Europa League final win over Ajax respectively.

Lindelof, who will partner Chris Smalling, endured a difficult pre-season and has only made one competitive appearance for United, when he struggled in the Super Cup defeat to Real Madrid.

And whereas Mourinho’s other summer signings Romelu Lukaku and Nemanja Matic have made immediate impacts, the United manager has stated it will take time for Lindelof to adapt to English football.

But he said: “I think it's easier for Victor to play in the Champions League. It's more comparable to the style of the Portuguese league.

“I don't think Bailly and Jones are better than Smalling and Lindelof. They are on the same level, just different players. There is a reason for Eric and Jones to be worried because Victor is very good."

But United may be without Marouane Fellaini, who excelled in May’s Europa League final win over Ajax and who has a calf problem.

“He's an important player for me,” Mourinho said. “A lot more important than you can imagine. I feel weaker without Marouane Fellaini in my squad."

Mourinho used second-choice goalkeeper Sergio Romero in the Europa League last season but has confirmed he will not follow suit in the Champions League, with David de Gea a confirmed starter. “I will go with him again,” he said.

The Spain international is delighted United have returned to the senior European competition, saying: “It's good to be back in the Champions League at Old Trafford. It's been almost two years. It was hard watching it on television.”

United were finalists in 2011, the year De Gea joined, but he admitted it will be hard for them to win the trophy for a fourth time: “We will try to win the Champions League but it will be difficult."

United competed in the Champions League for 18 consecutive seasons before only qualifying for it in one of the last three and Mourinho admitted this will be a new experience for some of his charges.

He said: “To be back in the Champions League is just to go back to the natural habitat for Manchester United. For some players, it's the chance to play Champions League for the first time."

Two of United’s last three Champions League campaigns have been concluded in the group stages and Mourinho said: “There are many teams in the Champions League with similar qualities to the Europa League. We have to qualify for the round of 16 and then enjoy the special nature of the knockouts."

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