Paul Pogba has removed himself from the firing line somewhat with his performance against Bournemouth.
Serial goalscorer Chris Smalling opened Manchester United’s account before Pogba provided the assist for Romelu Lukaku’s clincher in the 2-0 win, days after his lacklustre display at home to West Brom.
It would have been little surprise if the midfielder had been among the seven changes made by Jose Mourinho for the trip to the South Coast.
Instead, it was Alexis Sanchez who made way and the 25-year-old appeared to benefit from the extra space freed up by the Chilean, bursting through the middle and playing a perfectly-weighted through ball into the path of Lukaku with 70 minutes on the clock.
When he was eventually brought off, there was little warmth on show between player and manager, but his substitution may point towards him being spared for the FA Cup semi-final against Tottenham at Wembley.
Indeed, while Mourinho’s critics suggest he is unable to consistently get the best out of the former Juventus man, Lukaku revealed afterwards that it was the Portuguese’s words in the dressing room that inspired his team-mate.
What Mourinho told Pogba
“We knew we had the space,” he told BT Sport, quoted via the Mirror.
“At half-time the manager told Paul to keep making those runs, he did and played a perfect pass which I was able to finish off.
“It was really important that we won today and now we’re well prepared for this weekend. As a player you always want to play and you always have to be ready.”
Mourinho may well be right in coaching Pogba not to overthink his game.
In the derby with Manchester City, it was when the Red Devils found themselves 2-0 down that he sprang into action, so perhaps he does flourish when the pressure is off.
This was his 10th league assist of the season, which is just one fewer than David Silva and more than Christian Eriksen and Mo Salah – not a bad return for a midfielder who has come in for such heavy criticism, not least from his own manager.
Another ‘top performance’
On this occasion, though, it was enough to impress Mourinho, who contradicted Paul Scholes’ claim that Pogba had disrespected him by playing so poorly against the Baggies.
“I don’t agree,” Mourinho said, per Sky Sports.
“I agree that it wasn’t a good performance at all [against West Brom]; with that I agree.”
After watching him shine against Bournemouth, he added:
“Top performance. Top performance. Obviously the performance against City was special, coming with two goals.
“But this performance was a very similar level. So top performance. He can do it.”
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