Jose Mourinho has challenged Paul Pogba to show what he is capable of when he is restored to the Manchester United starting line-up against Valencia in mid-week after being left out for the second match running in Saturday’s 4-1 victory over Fulham.
A pressure-easing demolition of the Premier League’s basement side moved United above Bournemouth into sixth position with goals first-half goals from Ashley Young, Juan Mata and a returning Romelu Lukaku added to by Marcus Rashford after the break, but while the striker was restored to the first XI, Pogba remained among the replacements where he also sat for Wednesday’s draw with Arsenal.
But unlike Wednesday’s encounter when Pogba was introduced for the final 20 minutes, this time around the French midfielder remained an unused substitute as Mourinho instead sent on Fred and Scott McTominay for Jesse Lingard and Rashford, with Marcos Rojo replacing Chris Smalling in defence.
“He has to play with the same mentality as the team is playing,” said Mourinho when asked how Pogba can win back his place.
“Paul can be a fantastic player. He has the potential to be a fantastic player and against Valencia (on Wednesday) he’s going to start. Against Valencia he is going to have a fantastic football game to play in and show everybody how good he is.”
Unsurprisingly Mourinho was more interested in discussing the performance, which while it came against the side bottom of the table, proved to be one of the best United have managed this season.
In fact, it was the first time that United have scored four goals in the Premier League since putting the same number past Watford in November 2017, and the first half in particular delighted Mourinho to the point that he was even spotted smiling on the sidelines – something of a rarity at Old Trafford this campaign.
“The first half was really, really good, at every level,” Mourinho added. “The second half, I think (Claudio) Ranieri has a big responsibility, a good experienced man, he read the game, understood the game and changed the game for the better for them.
“But a good result, good performance, individual performances, Lukaku and Rashford – no goals for a while, even their goals mean something for them too.
“The spirit – the team was there to win and give everything and when you give everything nobody can point the finger at you. But what I really want is not a single United fan point the finger at us by saying we do not give everything. It is the type of performance that people respect the effort.”
After seeing his side slump to a second defeat in his four games in charge, manager Ranieri was keen to point out the red card given to Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, which came fewer than a minute after Aboubakar Kamara pulled one back for Fulham from the penalty spot to make the score 3-1 after he was fouled by Ander Herrera.
Anguissa was shown a second booking for a foul on Rashford, but Ranieri believes it was not the right call. “I watched on video and my player touched only the ball and the referee gave a second yellow card,” said Ranieri.
However, the Italian does believe that the second-half performance – which ended in a 1-1 scoreline – gives him plenty to work with in trying to keep Fulham in the top flight this season.
“At that time it changed the game because form the first minute of the second half we were much better and showed what we have to do to stay in the Premier League.
“I told my players, after that second half, you can survive. It’s very clear but we have to react, to think about it, we have to have the desire to be in the Premier League next season because nobody gives you a gift.”