An irate Jose Mourinho has attacked the state of FC Rostov's pitch in advance of their Europa League last-16 first-leg meeting with Manchester United on Thursday night (8 March), likening it to the weather-affected surface found at the National Stadium in Beijing last summer that forced a pre-season derby against Manchester City to be cancelled less than six hours before kick-off.
United have already been warned as to the poor condition of the pitch at the 15,840-capacity Olimp-2 Stadium in south west Russia, with Rostov manager Ivan Daniliants confirming that it is a problem and that their opponents will be surprised after playing on an "ideal lawn" at Wembley during their recent EFL Cup final victory over Southampton. Uefa subsequently released a statement revealing that the home team were set to train just behind the ground in order to "protect the pitch from unnecessary damage".
When asked about the surface during a pre-match press conference held on Wednesday morning, Mourinho was scathing in his assessment and suggested that concerns regarding the turf had left his selection plans in tatters.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan was included in the 20-strong United squad that made the long trip to Rostov-on-Don yesterday having recovered from a hamstring injury suffered during the previous round in Saint-Etienne, although it now remains to be seen if he will be risked. Eric Bailly is suspended, while Wayne Rooney, Luke Shaw and Bastian Schweinsteiger have all been left at home.
"It is hard for me to believe that we are going to play on that field, if you can call it a field," Mourinho was quoted as saying by The Mirror. "And I don't know what team to play, really. I don't know if Henrikh Mkhitaryan is going to play. I don't know. I have a lot to think about because I was expecting something more playable. In a very similar pitch in the summer in China we decided not to play but it looks like we have to play.
"I don't know [what United can do], I really don't know. I was analysing these very good opponents that we didn't speak about yet, and in their previous matches against Bayern Munich, Ajax, Atletico Madrid, in all these matches it looked for me a very playable pitch. I was very surprised with what I found here today."
He added: "I told one gentleman from Uefa of my concerns. He just told me the players are insured, so what happens to them is no problem."
Mourinho also refused to be drawn on the automatic three-match suspension handed to Zlatan Ibrahimovic after he accepted an FA charge of violent conduct relating to his elbow on Bournemouth defender Tyrone Mings, asserting only that he would feature as normal in Rostov. The influential striker will be unavailable for the FA Cup quarter-final trip to Chelsea and Premier League matches against Middlesbrough and West Bromwich Albion.
"No reaction, he plays tomorrow. I don't comment about the domestic decision."