Manchester: Paul Pogba, Alexis Sanchez, Juan Mata and Ander Herrera are all under threat of being dropped for Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final against Tottenham after Jose Mourinho promised to wield the axe in the wake of Manchester United’s abject showing against West Bromwich Albion.
Mourinho reacted to Sunday’s dismal 1-0 defeat to the Premier League’s bottom club, which handed the title to rivals Manchester City with five games to spare, by admitting the performances of some players had already persuaded him not to start them at Wembley this weekend.
Those who did not start or feature against West Brom are likely to be given the opportunity to stake their claim for a starting place against Spurs in tomorrow night’s league match at Bournemouth as Mourinho demands a reaction.
But the United manager — who had torn into his players at half-time — was adamant that others had blown their chances of starting the semi-final after reacting furiously to what he witnessed against Darren Moore’s struggling side.
“Rotating is not the right word — if I play a player against Bournemouth and the player is phenomenal, he plays the semi-final,” said Mourinho. “So it is not rotating, because rotating looks like a player that plays against Bournemouth is to give a rest to somebody that is going to play against Spurs in the semi-final.
“So the word is not rotation — it is an opportunity for people, for some people to play and to try to get a place in the team for Spurs, and some of the guys who played [against West Brom] don’t have a place in that team [against Spurs]. They don’t have a place in that team.”
Asked to confirm that he would not be playing players whom he felt underperformed against West Brom at Wembley, Mourinho replied: “Yeah. What is the criteria for a manager to choose a team? I only know one criteria — it is the way they play. It is the only way I can select players. Or do you want me to go for the price they cost, or their salary, or their beautiful face or ... The only way is to go with performance.”
Mourinho claimed he had “smelt” the performance coming after accusing his side of getting carried away by their 3-2 derby win eight days earlier and acting “like to win against City was the most important thing ever”.
Herrera was withdrawn at half-time against West Brom for Jesse Lingard while Mata and Sanchez — both of whom completed 90-minutes as Mourinho finished the game with six attacking players on the pitch — struggled for much of the game.
Pogba lasted just 58 minutes before being substituted after his latest anaemic display — the third time in the past seven league matches he has started in which he has been replaced — although Mourinho said the France midfielder’s yellow card had some influence on his decision.
Nonetheless, Pogba — who had scored twice in the derby to inspire United’s fightback from 2-0 down — is among those in the firing line, with Mourinho admitting after the game the Frenchman was one of those overcomplicating matters and taking “one more touch always”. Pogba’s woes came only days after Mourinho had told the midfielder he needed to start delivering consistently.
“It was not just him,” Mourinho said when asked if he had been disappointed with Pogba’s performance. “And he had a yellow card, so he was in a more difficult position than others.
“Playing with only two midfield players, you cannot play with one player in risk of not being able to make a foul. You can do it if your team is not losing the ball, but our team was losing the ball so easily with the complication [of our football].
“Everything was complicated. So we were losing lots of balls, so by losing lots of balls, with turns and flicks and tricks, the midfield players and central defenders are at risk of one touch, one late challenge and they are out. So Paul was out — because of the yellow card because, in terms of the way he played, he was not worse than some of the others who were on the pitch for 90 minutes.”
Mourinho said United’s inconsistency was down to attitude, and not age, after being asked if he was getting enough from his experienced players. “Consistency has nothing to do with age, it has to do with personality, it has to do with the way you live for football, what is your priority in your life, what is your ambitions, it is not to do with age,” he said.
“I met players who are 30 years old, not consistent at all, and I found boys of 18, 19, 20, real men, real pros, so it is not about the age.”