Sunday 20 August 2017

Match-winner Mkhitaryan provides double boost for Mourinho

Henrikh Mkhitaryan left on a stretcher but the post-match prognosis was encouraging
Henrikh Mkhitaryan left on a stretcher but the post-match prognosis was encouraging

Jose Mourinho's relief was clear after Manchester United ended their Old Trafford struggles and match-winner Henrikh Mkhitaryan avoided serious injury against Tottenham.

Progress to the EFL Cup semi-finals and Europa League knockout stages has been tempered by poor results in the Premier League, if promising displays.

United brought a run of four successive home league draws to a timely halt on Sunday, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan's fine first-half strike securing a hard-fought 1-0 win against Tottenham, reeling in the top four a little.

"To be honest, after so many matches playing well but not winning, we need the points more than the performance," Mourinho said.

"But I knew against a team like Tottenham it is difficult to get the result without playing well, so we played well. Very well.

"Tottenham, for me, is a very complete team. They defend well, they attack well, they build well from the back, they press well when they lose the ball. I think they are very complete.

"So to win against them, you need to play very well, which we did."

Mourinho was pleased to at last clock up a home league win, having again faced an in-form goalkeeper and struggled for goals.

The Portuguese said Hugo Lloris was runner-up in the man-of-the-match stakes behind Mkhitaryan, who capped a fine display with a superb rising shot.

However, elation was replaced by anxiety as the Armenian's afternoon was cut short following a late Danny Rose challenge.

Mkhitaryan left the field on a stretcher but Mourinho expects his ankle injury to keep him out for a couple of weeks rather than months.

"The injury doesn't look like a big one," the United manager said.

"It doesn't look like one needing surgery or months of recovery.

"It depends always on the player - anatomy, physiology, mentality - but hopefully it is not a big thing."

While Mkhitaryan was given a standing ovation as he left the field, large sections of the home crowd jeered Marouane Fellaini when he came on in stoppage time.

The divisive midfielder last week gave away the penalty that allowed Everton to snatch a late draw and some United fans appear to be reaching the end of their tether.

Asked if he heard the boos, Mourinho said: "I had that feeling, yeah. I had that feeling.

"I accept it because from the fans you have to accept everything and especially fans that are giving so much to us without getting so much from us.

"The only things they are getting from us is honesty, professionalism, dedication, but they are not getting the results they expect from us.

"They are so supportive, they can also be big critics, and I think the point was that they have in their mind the mistake that Marouane made at Everton and no more than that.

"He is a player that I like, he is a person I like and the person is even more important than the player. He will always have my protection and he will have always my trust."

A similar message came from Tottenham counterpart Mauricio Pochettino when asked about the Harry Kane mistake that led to United's goal.

The Argentinian said it was merely a result of the way his side play and was not too downbeat at Sunday's narrow loss.

"Well, I think it was an even game, very competitive," Pochettino said.

"I think we are a little bit disappointed. Disappointed with the result at the end, not our performance.

"We can play better but I think we competed here in a difficult game.

"Now (we need) to try and improve. We need to be ready on Wednesday for another game, but I think it was an even game."

Spurs have back-to-back home matches against Hull and Burnley before Christmas - games that midfielder Mousa Dembele is a doubt for due to a foot complaint.

"We don't know now," Pochettino said when asked about the severity of his injury.

"We need to assess him. He received a kick to his foot, but we don't know. We will see tomorrow."

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