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MANCHESTER, England – With Manchester United ravaged by a mix of injury and suspension, coach Jose Mourinho is contemplating an extreme idea as his side looks to navigate two competitions at the end of a grueling season.
"I'm also training hard in the gym," he said, breaking out into a smile, "so I can be an option."
Except United's list of absentees is no laughing matter for Mourinho.
Already without injured players Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba, Juan Mata, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo, Mourinho will now be without Marouane Fellaini for Sunday's Premier League game against Swansea after the midfielder was sent off for head-butting Sergio Aguero in the 0-0 draw at Manchester City on Sunday. Fellaini is facing a three-game ban.
Late in that game, substitute Timothy Fosu-Mensah picked up an injury that will see him become the latest defender to be sidelined.
"We are in trouble, but we fight," Mourinho said. "That's for sure."
Center back and central midfield are the obvious problem areas for United, which is through to the Europa League semifinals — the first leg against Celta Vigo is on Thursday — and is in fifth place in the Premier League. It means two potential routes remain open to qualify for next season's Champions League.
With Pogba and Fellaini out, Ander Herrera and Michael Carrick are United's only genuine center midfielders. Wayne Rooney might also be an option there, but how Mourinho could do with Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger, who were both allowed to leave United in recent months — to Everton and Chicago Fire, respectively — when the squad looked bloated.
"To have lots of players without playing is something that the players, they don't want," Mourinho said. "Sometimes there is this dilemma, to keep a bigger squad but the players don't want to stay.
"We are arriving at an extreme situation where now it must be unique to football. Two cruciate ligaments in the same match?" Mourinho added, referring to the injuries sustained by Ibrahimovic and Rojo against Anderlecht last week. "In my career (as a manager), I had one, in 17 years. One cruciate in 17 years. Against Anderlecht I had two, in one match. We are very unlucky, that's all we can say."
Mourinho said Pogba could return from injury against Celta, and that Mata was making good progress after groin surgery.
United is making light of its problems, though, with the hard-fought draw at City extending its unbeaten run in the Premier League to 24 games. The team is now only two points behind third-place Liverpool, having played one game less, and a point behind fourth-place City, but has a tougher run-in with games still to come at Tottenham and Arsenal.
"First of all, we have played I think 18 more matches than Liverpool," Mourinho said. "Eighteen more matches is like half of a Premier League. Eighteen matches and many miles in the players' legs. So it's an unfair fight, but we are going for it. The guys have an amazing spirit.
"I think City will finish top four. The matches they have to play, I see them doing that. I think it's between us, Arsenal and Liverpool. The reality is we have a European semifinal to play, lots of problems with players, but we are going to fight until it's not mathematically possible."
And Mourinho believes United's strong second half of the season bodes well for next season.
"I think Mr. (Louis) van Gaal left me a good group of boys with very good relations between them and I got that in my hands. I think they miss happiness, they miss trust, they miss belief. They miss this extra bit that brings resilience, brings you fight," he said.
"They have it (now). So in July, when we meet again for next season, it's a stronger group. The new players, when they arrive, will find a group more ready to go for big things.
Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80