MANCHESTER, England — Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho may not start Wayne Rooney in the Europa League on Thursday, saying he wants to “protect” his captain from another media backlash if he has a poor performance.

Rooney, who was dropped for United’s last Premier League game, returned to training on Wednesday after missing a practice session on Tuesday because of a slight back problem.

Mourinho wanted to start Rooney against Ukrainian side Zorya Luhansk at Old Trafford, but isn’t so sure now after the striker’s injury-hit build-up to the match.

“With the situation that you create for him,” Mourinho told reporters at a news conference on Wednesday, “I think really he can’t afford to have a performance that is not really good.

“Because I’m here to protect him and not to put him in difficult situations, I have to analyze if the best thing for him is to start the game if he is not totally ready for it.”

Mourinho dropped Rooney for the first time in his short tenure for the match against Leicester on Saturday, saying it was a tactical decision because he wanted more pace in the side. A day earlier, Mourinho said Rooney hadn’t been the same player since receiving media criticism for a display for England in a World Cup qualifier on Sept. 4.

United beat Leicester 4-1 thanks to a slick attacking display, with players like Juan Mata and Paul Pogba appearing more liberated without Rooney in the team.

“Wayne’s a top-class professional, top-class player, who’s won many things with Man United and he’s still got many years to go,” said United winger Jesse Lingard, who started against Leicester. “He’s an inspirational guy and he’s a leader.

“Obviously against Leicester, the manager switched up the team, gave it a different dynamic, and we won the game. But with or without him (Rooney), we’re going to do the best we can as a team, because we are a team and we’re going to stick together.”

Zlatan Ibrahimovic will start up front for United, with Mourinho seeing no problem in the 34-year-old striker playing two games in the space of three days now he has retired from international duty with Sweden. United plays Stoke in the Premier League on Sunday.

United opened group play in the Europa League with a 1-0 loss at Feyenoord.