Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho has warned players who were humbled at Bristol City they will not be in contention when his side returns to Premier League duty at Leicester on Saturday.
The surprise 2-1 League Cup quarter-final defeat at the hands of a Championship club means United will not retain the trophy that Mourinho won last season, his first as manager at Old Trafford.
More relevant to the futures of some of his fringe players, the performance means they will not be considered when Mourinho focuses on the more urgent matter of trying to cut into Manchester City’s 11-point lead at the top of the table.
“The reality is that the ones that were on the pitch were the ones that were not in the last (league) match and are the ones that not going to be in the next match,” he said.
“I think they lost a good opportunity also to play semi-finals and also to have two more matches to play.”
To add to the manager’s damning appraisal of the defeat, Mourinho also said some of his players did not even want to “come to the office” as Bristol pulled off one of the season’s major cup surprises.
Paul Pogba, who returned at Bristol following a three-match suspension, is presumably exempt from such criticism.
And Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who started his first game of the season in the upset, is likely also to be involved at Leicester although, with doubts persisting over his match fitness, he may only be on the bench.
But, with the possible additional exceptions of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, it appears unlikely that any of the starters from Ashton Gate will retain their starting positions on Saturday.
For players such as Luke Shaw and Matteo Darmian, who have struggled to convince Mourinho that they are worthy of regular first team football, the Bristol defeat could prove especially damaging.
– Mkhitaryan move? –
And for Henrikh Mkhitaryan, whose future has been the subject of much speculation amid reports that Mourinho will listen to offers for the Armenian when the January transfer window opens, his 20-minute substitute cameo against the Championship side was hardly encouraging.
Of the potential returning players for the visit to Leicester, right-back Antonio Valencia has a hamstring problem but is expected to recover in time.
To worsen Mourinho’s mood, and his team’s preparation for the Leicester game, they did not return to Manchester until 0500 GMT on Thursday after fog forced the cancellation of their private flight.
Leicester host Mourinho’s side on the back of their own League Cup defeat on Wednesday to United’s cross-city rivals Manchester City.
But having taken Pep Guardiola’s side to penalties, Foxes defender Christian Fuchs said the former Premier League champions, revitalised under new manager Claude Puel, will enter the weekend with confidence.
“It gives us a good feeling with the way we played,” he said. “We didn’t win but we kept possession, it felt good and it gives us confidence back.
“We’re happy with the performance. The feeling of disappointment we have now, we can be proud and go into the United game with a good feeling.